Transportation Design Is Vital Climate Action

The Community “Summit” On Urban Cycling, 24 – 25 April, 2024

EDITORIAL COLLECTIVE − Peterborough Bicycle Advisory Committee (P-BAC) convened a local summit to advocate for and encourage cycling as a legitimate, desirable and increasingly necessary constituent of urban living.

(The term “summit” dropped into common usage at the 1955 Geneva meeting (a first of its kind) of world leaders of the US, France, Russia and Britain to talk about a better future after the global impacts of World War Two. Since then, “summit” has come to be applied to other kinds of gatherings on crises.)

The bike summit’s theme – “Safe Streets for Everyone” – did not outrightly address the climate crisis context; however, the urban transportation planning and design described by the Keynote Speaker, Ian Lockwood, are now vital areas for climate-proofing cities. Take note, City, County and Township Councils.

Attending City of Peterborough Councillor Joy Lachica (Town Ward) summed up the climate connection when she described her bicycle use as “climate action by riding.” Riding, not driving.

In his address “How To Think About Transportation in a City to Better Accommodate Cycling,” keynote speaker, Ian Lockwood (P.Eng.) situated the biggest obstacle to good transportation planning in “people’s priorities and values.” He gave examples of how the priority given to speed and vehicles in designing streets and roads works against supporting strong community and human survival: empathy, ethics and equity. These are the foundational starting points of designing the urban environment.

“We’ll remain peaceful communities if we help one another through the growing impacts of the climate crisis, We must become enormously less dependent on fossil fuels, able to supply basic needs through the local economy, and living with each other peacefully.”Summit participant

Lockwood’s analysis named how the market economy dictated creation of wide, fast, “throughput” roads and streets that value the highest number of vehicles getting through a city to access market sites in the fastest time. We ended up with overwide streets and roads designed for vehicles but unsafe and unfair to people; that hollowing out “Main Street” cultures that nurtured that once served social cohesion – bringing people together, not sending them out of the commercial downtown. We ignored cycling, walking and social gathering.

Lockwood’s analysis is often challenged with the argument that creating such streets for all citizens would exclude homeless and low income citizens. He countered with the evidence from a project he was involved in that showed the opposite. It began in a rundown, low density area of one-way streets in an urban core that had been designated for renewal.

Its streets were redesigned using the road and street design principles described above, including the restoration of two-way traffic. Then, city planners actually took the time to find out who lived there already.

Counter to their assumptions, they canvassed and found that a large number of people lived and walked to work in that very area, resulting in low car volume. Also they discovered that mother-let families made up a significant portion of the existing population of the area, so it designated a number of housing units as of rent-geared-to-income for those tenants, and offered them a course on housing financing and maintenance – all of which also helped the city to avoid the accusation of “gentrification.” They added “gap” financing for existing landlords to improve their properties. The municipality’s own density targets were boosted. The area’s businesses measurably began to pick up again.

To the perennial claim “there’s never enough parking downtown,” Lockwood countered with proof that city centres, restored in ways mentioned above, consistently show that the parking complaints disappear because of the satisfaction experienced in the new “people friendly” design of a city centre streets and roads – approach called “living in place.”

It has now been shown, by redesigned main streets in cities around the world, that people like to linger, to meet others, to feel part of a community. Lingering incentivises places to sit, pleasant, climate-friendly vegetation strips separating sidewalks and streets (also good for storing plowed snow). Curbless (“flush”) main streets have been shown to boost visits to stores and businesses. Bicyclist amenities meant more customers too.

Another of Lockwood’s examples showed the uptick of business visits to small shops on a main street when their facades were designed to be different from each other every 8 to 10 seconds to passers by, and when parking became understood as “storing private property on public ground!”

It is true that the City of Peterborough is planning more bicycle infrastructure. However, summit participants generally thought it is happening too slowly. To its credit, city planners are experimenting with new people-centred, accessible streetscapes like the Hunter Street Café district. More is needed. And there is much further to go to meet the equity changes so sorely needed.

One participant pointed out that Lockwood omitted mention of cyclists’ responsibility for “safe streets for everyone” as drivers and roads receive most of the planning scrutiny.

Absent, too, was direct attention to the worsening climate crisis. It will have huge impact on urban transportation infrastructure and on social wellbeing, worse on marginalized citizens. Floods, heat and budget pressures from other vital sectors like economic development will be competing for funding. What must not be omitted is the role of social, recreational and health infrastructure a climate-changed reality. These latter are strengthened by embedding cycling, walking and “people-centred” design into urban planning and regulation.

The City of Peterborough, in its Central Area Urban Design Guidelines (April 2023) deserves recognition for the principles it states in its introduction

“Peterborough uses infrastructure and land efficiently, promotes healthy lifestyles and incorporates green initiatives to increase the City’s adaptive capacity. … Peterborough is equitable and accessible for all residents and visitors and celebrates its engaged, inclusive and diverse community.”

It’s up to us citizens to hold them to this vision.

The soon-to-be-released Peterborough city Climate Change Action Plan 2.0 will be based on “investigation” of the impact of how low-carbon mobility, low-carbon buildings, and enhanced natural assets can realize the “net zero emissions” by 2050 in Peterborough.” We hope it’s more than just “investigate.”

In his summary, Ian Lockwood pointed out an advantage that the city of Peterborough has for the future of cycling: the city is only about 7 kms east to west and 13 kms north to south – a short 20 minute bike ride at most.

Transportation Design Is Vital Climate Action © 2024 Editorial Collective of The Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

1 Comment

  1. “It’s up to us citizens to hold them to this vision.” – I am discouraged by the city and mismatches between policy and action. I see departments write plans and then ignore them during implementation. How can citizen’s actually hold them to account?

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