Monday, July 3, 2017

Are $15M intersections sound investments
in the greater public good?

A lot of people self-identify as “fiscal conservatives.” These folks are often enthusiastic supporters of $10 - 15M spent on a single intersection. This surprises me as in my view these spends are the most wasteful of all our allocations of public funds. Our public investments in mobility infrastructure have a responsibility, as do all public investments, to return a clear benefit to the greater public good. 
It’s said that “a well-defined problem is already half solved.” The problems being addressed when intersections are given a make-over are usually little more than a few fender-benders and seconds and minutes lost in our rush to get from here to there. Northfield Road is the latest example with construction at the Parkway and imminent for the Boxwood, Bowen Road and Island Highway intersections.
Cost of these projects totals $10s of millions and won’t solve the problem. That’s because the problem properly identified is two-fold: The BC inter-city Provincial Highway system lands here in a residential neighbourhood via BC Ferries at Departure Bay. This traffic has to flow through Nanaimo neighbourhood streets to reconnect with the highway system. The other part of the problem is one of urban design and transportation planning — Nanaimo has  not designed and built alternative mobility modes. No credible effort has been made by the City to reduce the number of trips which require the use of a private automobile, to reduce the number of cars on city streets..
So take a fresh look at the problems we face as drivers. Here’s 2 suggestions. 1. Take a bus, walk around, ride a bike. The view looks very different than the one through the windshield of our cars. You’ll no doubt find these inefficient even unsafe. Consider that investment in these modes and better land use planning might return far greater benefit to the public good. And 2. Familiarize yourself with the concept of “induced demand.”

Induced demand is "the great intellectual black hole in city planning, the one professional certainty that everyone thoughtful seems to acknowledge, yet almost no one is willing to act upon.” — City Planner Jeff Speck


Ian Gartshore said...

An "addiction" is defined as a person responding to a harmful substance or activity by desiring more of that substance or activity. Collectively we are addicted to the automobile, but like other addictions we recoil at the very thought that we are addicted and thus must wean ourselves off.
That's why we pay such enormous financial, social, health and environmental costs for the "freedom" of having our own cars. Not "conservative" at all!

Frank Murphy said...

The addict analogy’s a good one and extends to the enablers and the dealers. Weak and often cynical politicos and technocrats keep feeding the beast with its own money as more and more harm is done to the city.

Time to ask: If you take the last, say, 10 years and total the $10s of millions spent on city arterial roads, is driving in Nanaimo better now? Is there less congestion, are there fewer crashes, are fewer people injured or even killed on our roads?

Addicts can’t be expected to act rationally but but we should expect it from our political leadership and their support staff of planners and engineers