TriTAG’s presentation to the Regional budget committee

At last night’s Regional budget committee public input meeting, TriTAG spoke in support of more funding for transit, pedestrian, and cycling infrastructure. The 2010 Regional transportation budget includes $71 million set aside for growth-related road expansion, but only $2.1 million for improved sidewalks and bike lanes. The entirety of the Federal Gas Tax Fund, intended to be used for environmentally sustainable municipal infrastructure projects, will be spent on roads. If even half of the Federal Gas Tax Fund were diverted from road spending, the budget for sidewalks and bike lanes could be increased threefold. TriTAG also advocated for transit funding to alleviate the overcrowding crisis on many routes.

The full text of TriTAG’s speech is included below.

Mr. Chair, members of council:

We commend the $100-million capital investment in transportation planned in the 2010 budget. Unfortunately, if the present draft budget is to be implemented as is, that future seems to be one with a lot of cars and not much else.

In total, of this $100-million investment, almost $29 million is allocated to road rehabilitation. We have no argument with this – it is important to keep our existing transportation network in a good state of repair.

However, a further $71 million is dedicated to growth-related road expansion, including $36 million for new roads and road widening, and $31 million for “intersection improvements.” Meanwhile, out of $100 million, just $2.1 million is dedicated to sidewalks and cycling infrastructure. As a result of this chronic underfunding, some urgently needed sidewalk projects are not able to be funded until far in the future. Portions of Westmount Road lack sidewalks on one side, but Westmount isn’t scheduled to be rebuilt until 2014. What will pedestrians on Westmount, a busy route for pedestrians and motorists alike, do for the next five years?

The Region’s active transportation network of bike trails, sidewalks and cycling lanes are critical to the health prospects of our aging population, and a cornerstone to the transport demand management strategies that will help us build the city of the 21st century. This includes more people leaving their cars at home to walk to the grocery store, cycling to work, and using transit to reach major shopping centres and other points of interest. All of these activities involve the $2.1-million investment being made in this $100-million transportation budget.

The transportation capital base program (page 101) includes 29 codes for varying types of road improvement. In this legend, we don’t see a code for sidewalk improvements. While we do see a code in the legend for cycling facilities, it doesn’t appear much in the plans.

As a community, we must get serious about providing citizens with an alternative to their cars. Parts of Victoria St. North are lined with businesses but lack sidewalks; this makes accessing these businesses by foot or on transit quite treacherous in winter. Our streets lack sidewalks for our friends and neighbours to walk upon – can we please accelerate funding to remedy this problem?

According to the Government of Canada’s website, The Federal Gas Tax Fund “supports environmentally sustainable municipal infrastructure projects that contribute to cleaner air, cleaner water and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.” Yet the Federal Gas Tax funding is shown going exclusively to roads. If even half of it were used for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, the budget for such projects could be increased threefold. Can we please consider the budget impact of reallocating half of the Federal Gas Tax fund and identify deserving pedestrian and cycling projects?

We do notice that last year’s GRT bus purchase was deferred; as a result of this decision we are now in the midst of a ridership crisis. Passengers are forced to cram into overcrowded buses: iXpress reaches crush load throughout the day prompting some riders to nickname it the “sardine express”; Routes 9 and 12 often leave passengers behind. This is not the way to build transit ridership in the lead-up to an $790-million light rail system. It is essential that we not delay vehicle purchases any further. Can this please be considered?

That being said, during peak periods we can carry more passenger-miles with the equipment we have. Often, buses dwell at timepoints for several minutes, especially in the Charles Street Terminal where often passengers end up taking a break while the operator does the same. Can the budget impact of hiring additional operators and reorganizing GRT’s busier cross-corridor routes such as King Street and University Avenue into headway-service without dwell times please be investigated as part of this process?

The practice of refurbishing buses to gain an additional three to six years of service life, although an attractive palliative for the cost-conscious, adds unpredictable, dated vehicles to GRT’s fleet with little curb appeal for the choice riders GRT is attempting to attract. The choice rider wants to feel they are doing the modern, environmentally responsible, and technologically advanced thing by taking transit, and this desire is not met by a bus delivered in 1992 with no seat padding and whose interior was not part of the rebuild. Can we please budget for a twelve-year bus replacement cycle with no rebuilds?

We are not asking you to raise taxes any more than you have planned to. We do believe that transit fares should keep pace with inflation, as the Region has been doing incrementally in the past. However, we do believe that we should curb some road expansion in the short term and build more alternatives to road travel. Can we please consider making active transportation a higher priority in the 2010 budget?