Kenaston pitch deserves a rethink
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/04/2018 (1638 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With $450 million, one could build 90 community libraries, or 18 new schools, or 25 two-rink recreation centres. That sum represents the city’s total road maintenance budget for four years.
Winnipeg Transit’s entire 600-vehicle fleet could be replaced with new electric buses for $450 million — with enough money left over to buy 300 more.
Or, $450 million could build one car lane, two kilometres long, on each side of Kenaston Boulevard.
The city of Winnipeg has restarted the consultation process for widening Kenaston, between the St. James Bridge and Taylor Avenue, in an effort to reduce congestion.
The recommended design represents a dramatic change to the current character of the street. Nearly 100 houses and many mature trees are to be demolished and the roadway transformed into a wide, high-speed thoroughfare, lined in part with sound barrier walls and berms, similar to its configuration further south in Waverley West.
The primary focus of expanding Kenaston has been to increase capacity for cars passing through. Without carefully considering neighbourhood connectivity, however, the new highway will become a wedge, dividing two mature residential neighbourhoods — River Heights and Tuxedo — and could adversely affect the ability of any future Kapyong Barracks development to integrate with surrounding residential communities.
Focused principally on vehicle movement, the current design likely will reduce pedestrian trips and diminish connectivity between neighbourhoods. Intersections will be up to nine lanes wide, with double left-turning lanes that increase pedestrian exposure to vehicles. Right-turn slip lanes, effective at increasing turning speeds, will compromise pedestrian and cyclist safety, as drivers navigating turns at high speed can become preoccupied with finding gaps in traffic, diverting attention from the sidewalk.
A bike lane is incorporated between the acoustic wall and the road on one side, but it forces cyclists to cross over and back if they are coming from the opposite direction. To increase vehicle flow, several access points will be closed off, including Academy Road from the west and a mid-block pedestrian crossing will become a substantial pedestrian bridge over the road.
A highlighted goal of the design is to “incorporate Transportation Demand Management initiatives (TDM) to reduce single-occupant vehicle use.” TDM is a set of strategies geared at reducing congestion by encouraging a change in behaviour, promoting the use of alternative modes of transportation, such as walking, cycling, transit and carpooling. The current scheme appears to prioritize motor vehicles overwhelmingly and incorporates few ideas strong enough to change mobility habits, instead relying on greater road width to combat congestion.
There is strong evidence that this strategy will be ineffective at reducing congestion and likely will promote even greater car use. Cities across North America are realizing they can’t build their way out of congestion, with expanded roads returning to capacity shortly after construction. The concept is counterintuitive, but simply, more roads cause more traffic.
Referred to as the law of congestion, the theory indicates that when more lanes become available, there is always a proportional rise in the number of people driving on them, until the available supply of road space is met, no matter how much extra capacity was built.
One would expect that expansion of roads works like making a pipe bigger, allowing water to flow more easily. Instead, it’s as if the larger pipe draws more water into itself, until it once again reaches capacity.
This happens for many reasons. The larger road causes people to alter driving patterns, in terms of either route or time of travel, diverting traffic volumes to the new road and increasing vehicle numbers at peak times. The convenience of greater road capacity causes people to make more trips by car, increasing traffic and reducing the use of public transportation or carpooling.
Larger roads increase truck traffic and, most importantly, they are a significant contributor to urban sprawl. Greater road capacity allows people to more easily commute further distances, keeping cars on the road longer. Development pushing farther out increases automobile use, as the distances make cycling and transit an ineffective transportation option.
Kenaston Boulevard appears to be a model for the law of congestion. Despite a boom in residential and commercial development, traffic volumes have remained almost constant for 30 years. This might indicate that it has reached capacity and the pent-up demand will be quickly absorbed into the expanded roadway.
Before we spend half a billion dollars to find ourselves in the same congestion, with a significant physical scar slashed through two mature communities, it would be prudent to investigate creative, big-picture solutions that can change commuting behaviour.
Implementing toll roads with congestion pricing at peak times has proven to be politically unpopular, but effective at changing commuting habits. Introducing taxes on parking lots, thereby increasing parking fees, can create incentives to use alternate transportation. Significant investment in efficient and comfortable public transit with park-and-ride facilities, potentially with streetcars or light rail on dedicated corridors, can effectively increase ridership of suburban residents.
Many cities are dismantling their urban freeways, instead building complete streets that connect communities and promote all transportation modes equally.
Any solution must be coupled with land-use policy that curbs sprawling development and promotes more compact growth, to reduce driving distances and the need for new roads.
Spending on bigger roads rarely receives public scrutiny in Winnipeg, no matter the cost, but this is a significant amount of money that could be used to make valuable quality-of-life improvements in neighbourhoods across the city. It deserves deep public consideration before we move forward.
Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.