Category Archives: Saskatoon

The Law of Induced Demand

The long term impact of Saskatoon’s planning and development path

I GREW UP in Los Angeles, the city by the freeway by the sea. And if there’s one thing I’ve known ever since I could sit up in my car seat, it’s that you should expect to run into traffic at any point of the day. Yes, commute hours are the worst, but I’ve run into dead-stop bumper-to-bumper cars on the 405 at 2 a.m.

As a kid, I used to ask my parents why they couldn’t just build more lanes on the freeway. Maybe transform them all into double-decker highways with cars zooming on the upper and lower levels.

Except, as it turns out, that wouldn’t work. Because if there’s anything that traffic engineers have discovered in the last few decades it’s that you can’t build your way out of congestion. It’s the roads themselves that cause traffic.

The concept is called induced demand, which is economist-speak for when increasing the supply of something (like roads) makes people want that thing even more. Though some traffic engineers made note of this phenomenon at least as early as the 1960s, it is only in recent years that social scientists have collected enough data to show how this happens pretty much every time we build new roads. These findings imply that the ways we traditionally go about trying to mitigate jams are essentially fruitless, and that we’d all be spending a lot less time in traffic if we could just be a little more rational.

But before we get to the solutions, we have to take a closer look at the problem. In 2009, two economists—Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto and Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania—decided to compare the amount of new roads and highways built in different U.S. cities between 1980 and 2000, and the total number of miles driven in those cities over the same period.

“We found that there’s this perfect one-to-one relationship,” said Turner.

If a city had increased its road capacity by 10 percent between 1980 and 1990, then the amount of driving in that city went up by 10 percent. If the amount of roads in the same city then went up by 11 percent between 1990 and 2000, the total number of miles driven also went up by 11 percent. It’s like the two figures were moving in perfect lockstep, changing at the same exact rate.

Now, correlation doesn’t mean causation. Maybe traffic engineers in U.S. cities happen to know exactly the right amount of roads to build to satisfy driving demand. But Turner and Duranton think that’s unlikely. The modern interstate network mostly follows the plan originally conceived by the federal government in 1947, and it seems incredibly coincidental that road engineers at the time could have successfully predicted driving demand more than half a century in the future.

A more likely explanation, Turner and Duranton argue, is what they call the fundamental law of road congestion: New roads will create new drivers, resulting in the intensity of traffic staying the same.

Intuitively, I would expect the opposite: that expanding a road network works like replacing a small pipe with a bigger one, allowing the water (or cars) to flow better. Instead, it’s like the larger pipe is drawing more water into itself. The first thing you wonder here is where all these extra drivers are coming from. I mean, are they just popping out of the asphalt as engineers lay down new roads?

The answer has to do with what roads allow people to do: move around. As it turns out, we humans love moving around. And if you expand people’s ability to travel, they will do it more, living farther away from where they work and therefore being forced to drive into town. Making driving easier also means that people take more trips in the car than they otherwise would. Finally, businesses that rely on roads will swoop into cities with many of them, bringing trucking and shipments. The problem is that all these things together erode any extra capacity you’ve built into your street network, meaning traffic levels stay pretty much constant. As long as driving on the roads remains easy and cheap, people have an almost unlimited desire to use them.

You might think that increasing investment in public transit could ease this mess. Many railway and bus projects are sold on this basis, with politicians promising that traffic will decrease once ridership grows. But the data showed that even in cities that expanded public transit, road congestion stayed exactly the same. Add a new subway line and some drivers will switch to transit. But new drivers replace them. It’s the same effect as adding a new lane to the highway: congestion remains constant. (That’s not to say that public transit doesn’t do good, it also allows more people to move around. These projects just shouldn’t be hyped up as traffic decongestants, say Turner and Duranton.)

Interestingly, the effect works in reverse, too. Whenever some city proposes taking lanes away from a road, residents scream that they’re going to create a huge traffic snarl. But the data shows that nothing truly terrible happens. The amount of traffic on the road simply readjusts and overall congestion doesn’t really increase.

Of course the last paragraph is exactly how downtown Saskatoon will survive University Bridge being shut down and Better Bike Lanes.  It is also why road diets will work.

The 33rd Street Bridge

Ward 1 Councillor Darren Hill sent this out last night

Hello City Park, North Park Richmond Heights, Kelsey Woodlawn, Mayfair, and Hudson Bay Park,

Please note the PSA below for the next round of future growth public consultations.  I am getting the impression that members of the administration have already determined that there will be a new river crossing at 33rd Street.  They believe that this was supported by the majority of the citizens at the last round of consultations.  However, the attendance numbers were very low at those meetings and no one has provided me with accurate data on the demographics to get a clear understanding of who attended.

I know that many residents of numerous neighbourhoods in Ward 1 are opposed to a river crossing at this location.  They are concerned about new traffic patterns developing as well as increased volumes and speeds of traffic throughout the entire 33rd Street corridor as well as in the residential neighbourhoods.

Please spread the word and ensure that an effort is made to attend the meetings listed below.

I personally cannot understand the need for more river crossings in Saskatoon than Calgary, Edmonton, or even Manhattan have.  With a proper focus on a real transit system to serve the citizens, further development of walkable neighbourhoods, and properly planned infill – another river crossing would not be required.

Here is the PSA

HAVE YOUR SAY IN SASKATOON’S FUTURE! GROWTH PLAN PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT OPEN NOW UNTIL WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18, 2015, AT WWW.GROWINGFWD.CA

The City of Saskatoon invites residents to participate in the third round of open public engagement for the Growth Plan to Half a Million (Growth Plan).

Input is being sought on the recommended long-term plans for a new transit system with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT); a new river crossing at 33rd Street; BRT lanes on the University Bridge; and, redevelopment along major corridors like 8th Street, 22nd Street, and Preston Avenue.

The public also has an opportunity to provide feedback on the recommended implementation priorities for putting specific features of the Growth Plan in motion over the short- , medium- , and long-term.

Detailed project information and an online survey will be available at www.growingfwd.ca beginning Wednesday, February 25, through Wednesday, March 18, 2015.

In addition to online engagement, there are several public events being hosted for residents to learn more and provide input into the development of the Growth Plan.

Main Events – Growth Plan Focused Discussions
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
TCU Place, 35 22nd Street East
Daytime Session: Noon to 2 p.m.
Evening Session: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Growth Plan Campus Consultation
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Louis’ Loft, 93 Campus Drive
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The input gathered during this round of engagement will help to develop the long-term plans for corridor redevelopment, transit, and core area bridges, as well as set the direction for an implementation plan. We will be back in the fall to share what we heard and confirm the final Growth Plan with the public.

Once complete, the Growth Plan will help to guide future infrastructure investments so residents will have more choices for how they live and move around the city as Saskatoon grows to half a million people over the next 30 to 40 years.

For more information on the Growth Plan or to sign up for project update notifications, please visit www.growingfwd.ca.

Not sure if Councillor Hill agrees but I think a 33rd Street Bridge would kill the 33rd Street Business Improvement District and really hurt Mayfair and Caswell Hill.  I really agree with Darren Hill’s view on this.  Public Transportation needs to be the goal.

Saskatoon City Council Meeting in Review

I haven’t done one of these in a long while but here are the highlights from today’s City Council meeting.

  • Both Pat Lorje and Zach Jeffries brought up the missing reports on the city council website.  Administration just kind of made up a reply and suggested they don’t have enough space to host all of them.  They are preparing a report on it and will present that to Council in April.  So yeah, administration was passive aggressive on the issue.
  • Now to be fair to administration, they scan stuff in the most inefficient way possible.  It is basically JPGs of paper reports converted to PDFs.  It means that the reports are often not searchable or indexed and are MASSIVE in size.  I am assuming that administration doesn’t have the space to host normal PDFs but it could be that they are handling these HULK sized PDFs. (“PDF Angry!  PDF SMASH!”).  Either way, disk space as an excuse is a weak one.
  • Eric Olauson brought up the issue of efficiencies for new businesses in getting set up in the city.  It’s a great point and Calgary has made some great progress.on streamlining processes in many areas of the city.  Administration seemed to shrug it off.  Hopefully Olauson keeps pushing for it.  I’ll just post this link to a Vox story that Olauson posted to Twitter last week.  I was hoping he would bring it up today.  It’s worth reading and would have made for an interesting debate considering Council voted to give Urban Systems a large contract to do what Houston did for free.  Of course the mandate for Urban Systems is larger than just transit.  In its mandate is all of active transportation (cycling, pedestrians, long boarding).  Some asked if there was much debate.  There wasn’t but with most of those kinds of things, the debate takes place once it comes back to Council.
  • Darren Hill asked the administration to take into account the impact city projects have on active transportation (walking, cycling, and long boarding).  I believe that if records were kept, Hill is Canada’s strongest long boarding advocate.
  • Olauson also brought up the issue that as a councillor gets complaints about an issue and it is kind of swept under the rug by admin who says, there is no issue.  As Olauson brought up, there is an issue because councillors keep hearing about it.
  • Clark brought this up twice but he called out the administration for using the term customer service in talking about citizens.  He essentially said that we are all in this together and City Hall needs to remember that.  It was a good thought.  Not that customer service is wrong but I am not a customer of City Hall but a resident of Saskatoon.  Clark later referenced that when he said that snow removal is an act of citizenship.
  • Ann Iwanchuk and Zach Jeffries both rose to talk about snow removal.  Both brought up the idea that we don’t want to punish people who are making a good effort or are on vacation.  I know what they are saying but isn’t that a responsibility of home ownership?  Shouldn’t you make arrangements or hire someone to shovel when you leave?  
  • I believe Pat Lorje was calling out City Centre Church for not shovelling their sidewalks.
  • Twitter feedback suggests that some neighbourhoods are way better at snow removal then others.  There seems to be some consensus that City Park is horrible at it.
  • There you go.  Short and almost sweet.  Councillors then retired upstairs where they had an executive meeting that was in-camera (closed door).

    Spin City

    The old City of Saskatoon website had reached the end of it’s practical life.  It was designed by Zu back before these new fangled things called CMS’s existed and when hand coding HTML was a way of life and while they did a great job of it when it was launched, it was coded in part by Microsoft Frontpage 97 (having used Frontpage 97, you can’t imagine how painful that must have been).  The City of Saskatoon decided last year to get a new one.  After ridiculous comments by city councillors (looking at you Councillor Hill who suggested once that we get a website like Calgary’s for cheap once the prices came down), RFPs, consultations, leaked screen shots, a website promoting the new website, and much hype. it finally launched.

    It looks okay outside of some truly horrible font choices.  When I say, “okay” I sadly mean that it looks like it was powered by Joomla (which is was).  It is a lot faster then the old one but there were some problems.  The search feature doesn’t work because someone forgot to upload a new site map to Google Webmaster Tools so all of the old results are there.  Instead of forwarding all of those results to the matching pages on the new site, they left them there as dead links.

    Most troubling is that not all of the old content made it over from one site to the other.  Trimming content from a website is nothing new.  Companies do it all of the time.  Governments on the other hand rarely do it, even when they change parties.  I can find press releases and reports on the Government of Saskatchewan or even Government of Canada website going back to the launch of the internet.  Some governments have been aggressive in getting even older stuff online in a variety of searchable formats.  It takes time but in some jurisdictions you have access to an incredible amount of historical information and not all of it flattering.  Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg are all great examples of cities who have large expansive archives that share the good and the bad.

    With the launch of Saskatoon’s new website, we have lost a lot of that information.  The City Clerk’s portion of the website used to hold the reports, papers, and even articles related to Saskatoon’s history that were accessible nowhere else.  The City Clerk doesn’t even have a section on the new site.  Old archived videos and council agenda minutes and reports are gone.  They are supposed to be uploaded “soon” but why launch without the content that used to be there?

    After I wrote Councillor Darren Hill about this. Within a day of that, there was a note say that if you were looking for that information, you could ask the city for it. So I did.  I asked for all of it.  So far I have been promised that someone will be in touch.

    I could ask for it, because I knew about it but if you don’t know about those reports (last year I was sitting down with a City Councillor who had no idea that the City of Saskatoon had benchmark reports comparing us with other western Canadian cities), you won’t even know to get them.  That is why you have a city website with all sorts of information on it, so people can browse.  It is something that we have lost now and unless City Council puts their feet down, we won’t get it back.

    Why does this matter?  The City says that people rarely access those reports.  They could be right.  Maybe it was only Hilary and myself who poured through them (I know there were others) but they were there and gave anyone who cared enough to access them some insight into how the City of Saskatoon was run and the data, rules, and regulations that drove decisions (or in most cases, were ignored by councillors.  

    That information was commissioned by the City and now isn’t available to be browsed for really no reason.  It isn’t 1995.  The City of Saskatoon isn’t being hosted on the Saskatoon Free-Net or GeoCities.  They have more than a megabyte of storage to work with.  Actually if storage is a factor, then the City of Saskatoon has the most incompetent IT people in the world.

    Apparently us wanting to look at that information is part of the problem.  For long time readers of my blog and my column, I have used that information many times to praise or call out the city and their statements as being inaccurate.  I have written many times that I tend to cover Saskatoon City Council as I would a sports team.  I want them to do very well but when they don’t, we talk about that as well.  If council wants better coverage, do better things.  Instead of doing better things, the city is doing more and more to hide what it does.  I have said this many times but it is easier to find out what other cities are doing across Western Canada than it is to find out what Saskatoon is doing.  So what are we doing that is so secretive?

    The reason is that Saskatoon doesn’t care about transparency anymore.  It is all spin.  The City comes out and spins Standard and Poor’s financial rating report and at the same time tries to refute Phil Tank’s fair summary of it.  They do this without publishing the actual report.  This is the same City that had attack ads of its own Transit Union after it locked them out.  It is the same City Admin that underfunded roads for over a decade and then spent thousands on new decals for pylons that said, Building Better Roads.  Press releases went from informative to almost partisan sounding complete with meaningless quotes from politicians and city managers.

    Now we have a website that is the continuation of the same thing.  It is another tool in spin.  It may look good but everything is presented with City Hall’s slant on it.  As far as I can tell, everyone on council is fine with it.  Why wouldn’t they be fine with it, it communicates one thing and that is that everything is fine in the City of Saskatoon.  For those that used data or facts to disagree or point out inconsistencies, well that data is all gone.  To get it, you need to go through the city or file a costly Freedom of Information Act.

    This is the new Saskatoon.  Hope you like it.