Monday, March 7, 2016

Nanaimo's wondering what to do with an urban highway — I share some thoughts...

Cc: Mayor&,

That was a good discussion last week at your stakeholders presentation. I wasn't able to attend but watched the video on the City's website. A very worthwhile initiative and I do appreciate the committee's efforts and commend the City for underwriting your work. I have expressed concerns, concerns which place me in a dissenting and very much a minority opinion position. Not ideal certainly, one would prefer to be expressing an enthusiastically positive view. I do feel though an obligation to list them here, copied to Council and City Manager Samra.
The work done to date is based on assumptions that have not been included in the public discussion. These fall in two areas:
1. Nanaimo Council and citizens are not asked if they support the continued presence of Terminal/Nicol as part of the Provincial highway system;

2. Traffic studies and technical analysis of current and projected levels using traffic planning orthodoxies which are being questioned and challenged elsewhere.

It may be an unfortunate reality that an inter-city highway and the laudable goals of the Terminal / Nicol committee, are simply incompatible. I am encouraged to hear the committee chair and the Ministry of Transport's representative talk of the partnership to work towards an arterial corridor than can meets the needs of the highway system, pedestrians and cyclists of all ages and abilities, the neighourhoods currently separated by the existing highway, economic development lead by the private sector. I certainly don't question the best intentions evidenced here but I'm unable to find anywhere the happy coexistence of the needs of inner city neighbourhoods and an inter-city highway system.
I am seeing many examples of traffic studies, based on projection models and technical analyses, creating more of the problems that they strive to solve. It is widely accepted in research and examples I see that the phenomenon of induced demand quickly undoes any brief relief from congestion. Existing and projected volumes should come well down the list of the reasons we spend huge amounts of public money on our road systems. The needs of the community; economic, social and civic; should be primary considerations well ahead of the goal to move (usually single-occupant) cars quickly through the city. Local cars and delivery trucks move fine thru a street system designed to be shared by all citizens, just not quite as quickly.
And related, I haven't seen in the traffic backgrounder information, detail of the nature of the current traffic: its origins, destinations, should it in fact be on the Parkway in that its primary purpose is to exit the city as quickly as possible. That the traffic is there is insufficient reason to build public infrastructure for it at the expense of other much needed public amenities.
The committee's work offers Council important detail and concepts which they'll need to decide on perhaps the single greatest city-building initiative of a decade or more. My contention though is that it's only part of the picture and to make a fully informed responsible decision Council will need to see alternatives which are not based on the assumptions I've mentioned. I don't pretend to be able to offer that but there are professionals working on and learning from other approaches. Many you'll be aware of and happy to share others if you like.
We share a concern that our terrific little city be the best it can be as huge changes continue to happen in the ways we live, share public space, work, and move. And a concern that it's critically important to get this right. I hope you'll ask for an independent critical review of your approach here.

Frank Murphy


  1. Independent critical review: Yes, that is crucial. The volume of traffic on that stretch is fast and heavy, and it includes huge transport trucks. It is sweet to imagine that approach to downtown Nanaimo as pedestrian and business friendly, but how realistic is that? For one thing, those huge transport trucks are vital to supply the businesses to downtown and beyond. Where is that traffic to be re-routed? It can only go into residential streets which are not suited for that purpose. I am wondering who is spear-heading this initiative, and why. What is in it for them? This has never been made clear to me. - Madeline A. Bruce, resident and business owner on Nicol Street.

  2. Thanks for raising those points Madeline. I was hoping to see solid reliable data on the nature of this traffic, its origins and destinations. It appears to be largely inter-city traffic on its way south and should be on the Parkway. I don't know why that and similar research data hasn't been established by the traffic engineers who do seem to be driving (so to speak) this work. It's a Downtown BIA initiative and I don't have a problem with that as long as they can act independently and in the interests of the entire community. I am seeing in other cities wrestling with similar problems that the transport semi's (who's work is important I agree) will find it more convenient to use the by-pass rather than crawl thru city neighbourhoods.