When Great Minds Come Together

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              Last January, a Sustainability Conference entitled “Urban Transportation and Design: Getting Where We Need to Go” was held at the Parktown Hotel in Saskatoon. Hosted by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists – Saskatchewan (APEGS), the City of Saskatoon, and the School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS) at the University of Saskatchewan, the conference was intended to give a diverse group of stakeholders the opportunity to discuss urban transportation issues, addressing both physical infrastructure and social aspects.

Speakers from the City of Saskatoon, the City of Edmonton, and the University of Saskatchewan introduced the themes of sprawl and density, lessons learned from other municipalities, transportation behaviour, greenhouse gas reductions and designing cities for multiple modes of transportation. Conference attendees discussed these themes at length, reflecting on the information provided by the speakers, and identifying issues, challenges, and implications and then proposed solutions! Here are just five of the many proposed solutions that resulted from their discussion.

  • Be creative in encouraging a shift to commuting by public transit. Such as making a driver’s license a transit pass as well, and encouraging ridership by offering free transit to special events and festivals, especially those which are family-focused. Other creative ideas were ‘Car-Free Sundays.’
  • Provide incentives for employers to provide bus passes for employees. Cities such as Vancouver and Toronto have introduced such incentives and have seen traffic congestion decrease. Employers could introduce a “sustainable mobility program” or an “ecopass,” promoting ride shares, parking spot shares, and bike servicing, for example. Another idea would be a ‘commuter challenge’ amoung employees or companies.
  • Reduce the subsidization of the transit system by the public utilities sector. The introduction of full cost pricing mechanisms will effectively bring about this reduction, providing decision makers with better information regarding the performance of each sector. By separating utilities from transit, City Council can show how transit infrastructure is actually a capital asset not an expense, as it generates its own funds. This will foster greater fiscal transparency, which will assist people in understanding the costs of public infrastructure.
  • Initiate pilot projects: Implementation can begin on a small scale, instead of with massive projects. Taking the time for proper evaluation of these projects is essential. The Saskatoon Outdoor School and the School of Environment and Sustainability would be ideal venues for pilot projects. Completing more studies means that in- formed decisions are easier to make.
  • Change fiscal policy around transportation budgeting: A certain amount of the municipal budget should be allocated to each mode of transportation, and the transportation budget should be uncoupled from the general public utilities budget.

A full conference report is available at:



Bikes and Buses are like PB & J

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What are you up to tomorrow evening? Why not support the Saskatoon cycling community and attend a screening of “A Winter of Cyclists.” Broadway Theatre – 8:30- see you there!

Lets start by talking about how great cycling is! No emission, personal means transport, door to door, available throughout the day and fast and efficient at short distances. But what about if you have an injury? What if its raining and you don’t have proper gear? What if you are caring for small children? What is you just don’t like the thought of being on two wheels? Sometimes its nice to have an alternative like taking the bus. Buses are low emission, they have a high spatial coverage and are good for long distances (in cities bigger than Saskatoon!). Along with walking, I think that together they complement each other to make the perfect network for active transportation.

How can out communities better support bikes & buses?

  • Dedicated bicycle lanes and routes
  • Dedicated bus lanes and routes
  • Connect bike routes and bus routes at integral points
  • Educating drivers and bus drivers on how to share the road with cyclists
  • Link active transportation to public transit in the form of walking or biking to the bus stops and by offering bike racks on buses
  • Provide storage for bicycles throughout the community
  • Have an integrated network of pedestrian and cycling paths that are designed for efficient transportation as well as recreation
  • Plan our cities so that they reduce the distances that people have to travel to get to where they are going
  • Encourage the retail and service sectors to support customers and employees who use active modes of transportation
  • Encourage feedback from citizens, pedestrian, bus and cycling advocacy group

How can our workplaces support bikes and buses?

  • Provide secure bicycle storage, lockers and shower facilities for employees
  • Encourage multi-modal travel by linking employees to public transit
  • Allow more flexible dress codes
  • Organize workplace challenges

How can schools support active transportation?

  • work with the municipality to identify safe routes for children while addressing safety and infrastructure barriers
  • Have teachers work with children to identify the safest routes to get to school while teaching children about traffic and pedestrian safety
  • Offer skills on bike and cycling safety
  • Work with parents and the community at large, to make the trip to school a safe trip for children and youth

Bus Rider Etiquette

 Most people realize that etiquette and good manners are essential to anything that involves social interaction. There is no other place where basic social etiquette is as magnified as when dozens of people are sharing the same space on a bus. The bottom line is that good manners on the bus can lead to another rider or bus driver having a good or bad bus experience. Here is my best shot at compiling a list of do’s and don’t without being a nag. Is there any that you would take off this list or add?

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  1. Enter front, exit rear in order to help people get to their destinations as quickly and safely as possible. This works to prevent a traffic jam.
  1. When the bus is full, ensure that personal items are not taking away the seats from other passengers. Or better yet, limit the personal items that you take on the bus when possible.
  1. Keep doorway areas clear whenever possible. It is common to stand in the area around the rear door but this makes it more difficult for people to exit from those doors. Instead, it is better to sit and avoid standing in this area.
  1. Seats closest to the doors are for persons with disabilities and seniors and these people appreciate you offering these seats to them. Also, some people have disabilities that aren’t always obvious. If someone asks you to give up a seat because they have a disability, take their word for it.
  1. When you are near your destination, start moving towards the nearest vehicle exit doors to reduce stopping time and to make your exit less difficult (especially inside a crowded bus).
  1. Have your fare ready before a bus arrives at the stop. If you cannot find it right away, step to the side and letting others board first. This ensures that the bus stop time is limited and the bus can continue along its scheduled route time.
  1. Nobody likes to get left behind and to prevent this, passenger should move to the rear of the bus. We all have places we need to be and want to go in a timely manner and not everyone has time to wait for the second or even third bus. You would be surprised how much more space could be made for more passengers if all the people standing moved all the way to the rear of the bus.
  1. Whatever you bring onto public transit also leaves with you as you exit. Bring your trash with you and dispose of it properly into a trash can or recycling bin. This helps keep the bus clutter free for other passengers.
  1. Do not attempt to stop a bus after it has pulled into traffic. Bus Operators are not permitted to open doors or allow passengers to board away from bus stops. This also allows for the bus to maintain its regular scheduled timing.
  1. Greet your bus driver and say thanks! Many people have complaints about bus driver attitude and maybe bus drivers would be friendlier if the passengers were friendly as well.
  1. Accept that taking the bus makes you part of a community. While many like to be left alone, many like to meet new people. Why not chat with the old lady next to you? These small positive interactions are what make taking the bus great.

Photo credit: New York Daily News Archive


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Is BRT a new Sandwich at Tim Hortons?

 No. Bus rapid transit is a bus based mass transit system. A BRT system generally has specialized design, services and infrastructure to improve system quality and remove the typical causes of delay. Sometimes described as a “surface subway”, BRT aims to combine the capacity and speed of light rail or a metro with the flexibility, lower cost and simplicity of a bus system

Why is BRT relevant to Saskatoon?

Saskatoon is growing and so is the demand for fast and efficient transportation. Cars and roadways are an expensive, space wasting and inefficient solution. That is why the City of Saskatoon is looking to plan for a more efficient transit system that will alleviate congestion and promote accessibility. Their current citizen engagement project called Growing Forward! Shaping Saskatoon! Is exploring rapid transit options that would serve as the spine of Saskatoon Transit services. Instead of light rail, Saskatoon is following in the footsteps of many other Canadian cities like Winnipeg and Gatineau and looking into Bus Rapid Transit.

What would make BRT faster than other buses?

  • Alignment in the centre of the road (to avoid typical curb-side delays)
  • Limited stops
  • Stations with off-board fare collection (to reduce boarding and delay related to paying the driver)
  • Station platforms level with the bus floor (to reduce boarding and alighting delay caused by steps)
  • Bus priority at intersections (to avoid intersection signal delay)

How many cities have implemented BRT systems?

186 cities worldwide on all continents

What are some ways to evaluate if the BRT is working well after implemented?

Local passenger demand is a good indicator if the system is efficient.

Sources: Wikipedia and City of Saskatoon

Photo Source: http://www.miovision.com

Sources: Wikipedia and City of Saskatoon

Would You Consider Selling Your Car?

I am a big advocate for walking, cycling and riding the bus. But this past summer I decided to walk the walk, bike the bike and ride the bus instead of just talking the talk… I took the leap and sold my car! I have been car free for half a year without even checking the kijiji used car listings once. Actually, the fruits of a car free lifestyle have been economical, good for my health, overall refreshing and somewhat surprising. Here are a few examples of how my life has changed since selling my car:

  • Everyday I take the bus with interesting people and have great conversations or just some awesome people watching time. (Although we like to pretend we don’t, human beings need person to person interaction and sitting in a car in traffic doesn’t facilitate that. )
  • I have adapted to a pre set bus schedule instead of my own ‘leave-with-enough-time-to-speed-there’ timing. But I can report that it has made me more stress free and consistently early for things.
  • Now I have time on the bus to read, eat, drink, text, or nap.
  • Gas prices are low right now but they are lowest when you don’t have a vehicle !!
  • I have started being more intentional with my trips instead of running around doing ‘quick’ errands.
  • I haven’t gotten a single parking ticket since I sold my car.

I did a little more research into the cost of driving a car on our pocket books and to our health and came across some astonishing information. Including depreciation, the car loan, gas and license, the cost of having a vehicle ranges between $8,000 to $14,000 per year. Obviously this is depends on many factors and so CAA has created an online cost estimator. Check it out: http://caa.ca/car_costs/ . This doesn’t include parking and according to The Partnership in Saskatoon, a parking spot downtown can range in price from $100 to $300 depending on location and amenities. Keep in mind that the cost of a monthly adult bus pass is $80 and $960 per year. If the car free option still doesn’t appeal to you maybe this statistic will change your mind. According to the National Safety Council, the odds of dying in a car accident next year are 1 in 17, 635. Whereas the odds of dying in a bus accident are only 1 in 6, 696, 307. So take transit… your life might depend on it!

Many people in Saskatoon would laugh if I proposed that they give up their car. But if you take away one thing from reading this blog post be it that… some people think riding the bus isn’t so bad afterall.


Past and Present

In my opinion, Park Cafe on 20th Street West is a great spot for breakfast, and not just because it serves up the best rendition of the classic eggs-bacon-toast-hashbrowns combo that I’ve found to date (apologies to Broadway Cafe, Fil’s Diner in Ottawa, Star Diner in Kingston, and countless other greasy spoons I’ve feasted at). Nestled amongst the prerequisite 1950’s decorations – red stools and benches, car signs, and a rendition of Elvis in a convertible across the street from the cafe – are amazing historic photos of Saskatoon, specifically 20 West. These fading shots include an overhead view of the trainyards (the space now inhabited by Idylwyld and Midtown Mall) that originally separated this neighbourhood from the rest of town, as well as photos of street life in a different era where cars were in the picture but did not dominate. Another interesting artifact in those photos are the presence of rails embedded in the street, harkening back to the time when streetcars plied the corridor between downtown and Saskatoon’s then-western reaches, home to the city’s early suburbs. Although I’ve seen these photos countless times by now, they still have a power to transport me to a different time and place, one that’s both familiar and very different from the scene currently outside.

While waiting for my breakfast this morning around 9:30, I saw a 2 bus rush by heading downtown, standing-room only. That split-second view of transportation today got me thinking: would the streetcars that used to run this route be similarly full to overflowing? Would they have run at 15 or 30 minute intervals, or more frequently to allow those who could not have afforded a private vehicle (the majority in those days) easier and more reliable access to transportation? Did riders and non-riders alike view the system with pride, or was it just part of the background of city life, like sidewalks and fire hydrants and lights? What would those riders from past decades (even centuries) think of Saskatoon’s transportation system today?

I’m not advocating for or against a return to rail here – technology, society, and the shape of our city has changed drastically since those photos were taken. Perhaps such images should be left in the past as historical curiosities. However, we can also take inspiration from them: not for a specific route or vehicle, but for a time when transportation was a visible part of the community and helped shaped what the neighbourhood was and continues to be.

Better Bus Stops- The Fundamentals

Transit planners have generally observed transit users will tolerate a 400m distance to access a local service transit. However, people are willing to walk much further for faster, BRT service. But keeping with the 400m radius distance, below is a 400m radius drawn around the bus stop (red dot).

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If you draw circles around stops based on the assumption of a 400m radius, you’re implying that the whole circle is within walking distance. In fact, even with in the pedestrian grid on the right, the area within 400m walk (outlined in blue) is only 64% of the red circle. With an obstructed suburban network like the left image, it can be less than 30%. Unfortunately, Saskatoon is mainly composed of obstructed pedestrian networks. Walking distance determines how far apart the stops can be. Stop spacing determines operating speed. So, the nature of the street network actually does determine how fast the transit service is. We will go into more detail about the relationship between land use and transit in a later post.

This bring us to the question about how close bus stops should be… is it worse to create a duplicate coverage area or leave a coverage gap? What do you think? It depends on whether Saskatoon transit is trying to meet the needs of transit-dependent persons or to compete for high ridership.

Another important consideration for bus stop placing is to adjust locations on busy streets so that pedestrians can safely cross at every stop. I remember last year when there were angry parents at City Council fighting for another pedestrian crossing on 20th street to accommodate the bus stop and stop their kids from jay walking.

Saskatoon transit, along with almost every other city in North America has done the local-stop service as the basic product and the limited stop high speed service as an add on? What would happen if they did the opposite. It all comes down to the fact that the faster transit runs, the more it competes with cars. The slower it runs, the more it competes with walking. Which competition is more urgent?

Source: Human Transit http://www.humantransit.org/2011/04/basics-walking-distance-to-transit.html