Ottawa’s recent decision to increase its emissions reduction target to 80% from 2012 levels by 2050 will require major changes to one sector in particular: transportation, currently responsible for 40% of the City’s community greenhouse gas emissions.
In a previous blog, Trevor Haché discussed how introducing congestion charges could help alleviate the City’s dependence on private vehicles and incidentally reduce the burden of road repair and maintenance. In this and subsequent blogs, I will look at experience with congestion charges in other cities.
As the previous blog mentioned, congestion charges have been (or are about to be) tried in various forms in a wide range of cities and countries, including a number of Canadian and U.S. cities, as well as in Europe and Asia. In addition to reducing congestion in inner cities, a major secondary benefit of these charges is revenue generation, and in particular creating revenue that can be used to offset the wear-and-tear of vehicle transport on the city’s roads—a major ongoing cost for both the city and the province. Congestion charges are also a very cost-effective way to incentivise the “modal shift” to public transport that Ottawa will need once its LRT network is implemented. And finally, they offer one solution to the problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.
But exactly how effective are congestion charges, and what experience from other jurisdictions could Ottawa use to ensure that the introduction of such charges will be successful? This blog tries to answer these questions by looking at a one city that has conducted a detailed post-implementation evaluation.
The best known example of congestion charges is Stockholm, which introduced road pricing on a provisional basis in 2006, and then on a more permanent basis in 2007. The provisional phase was intended to give citizens a chance to experience the effect of congestion charges--at a time when public resistance to the idea was considerable—before agreeing to institute them for the longer term. Following that phase, a referendum was held on the subject, which passed by a substantial majority. The charging system consists of a cordon around the inner city, with a time‐differentiated toll being charged in each direction. According to a recent analysis, traffic across the cordon has been reduced by around 20%, leading to substantial congestion reductions in and around the city.
It is useful to compare Stockholm’s situation with Ottawa’s, since the first objection to such comparative analyses is that cities are unique and such programmes are therefore not easily replicated.
First, Stockholm’s population is nearly identical with Ottawa’s: approx. 1 million. However around 2/3 of the city’s inhabitants live in the inner city, an area of some 35 km2. The population within the “toll zone” or cordon is around 330,000, of which 60,000 commute to workplaces outside the zone.
By comparison, 81% of Ottawa’s population lived in the “inner core” in 2001, but this has declined significantly in recent years as new outlying areas were incorporated into the city, and is probably more like 60% (the proportion “inside the Green Belt”) at present. On the other hand, Ottawa’s employment is heavily concentrated in the inner city (if we define this as the area within a 35 km2 “ring” around the Parliament buildings), as therefore is commuting. The main target of a congestion charge in Ottawa would therefore be suburban residents working in the inner city, rather than inner city residents working outside the core.
The main difference between Stockholm and Ottawa is the availability of public transit. Ottawa Transpo’s bus service is relatively efficient and heavily utilised for inner-city commuting, but less so for suburban transit. The advent of LRT services over the next 10-15 years will change this picture dramatically, but even then the city will have far less transit availability than Stockholm currently has. According to the Centre for Transport Studies:
In Stockholm, “60‐65% of all motorized person trips to and from the city centre are made by transit. During rush hours, the share increases to 80%. The public transport system in the county of Stockholm consists of a subway network with 100 stations and over a million trips per day, a commuter rail network with 51 stations and nearly a quarter of a million trips per day, five light rail lines with 98 stations with a bit more than 100 000 trips per day, and an extensive bus network with nearly a million trips per day.”
Despite the availability of transit options, Stockholm’s rush hour traffic density is three times that of its off-hour density, so private vehicle congestion was definitely a serious problem.
The differences between Stockholm and Ottawa are therefore smaller than might be expected, with transit availability the main distinguishing feature. The notion of an inner-city “cordon” would also differ, as in Ottawa’s case the main peripheral roads—176, 417, 17—do not “ring” the major employment areas but rather run through them. Still, these roads do funnel the majority of commuter traffic in and out the city, and would therefore present a logical target for cordon-based pricing, subject to a more detailed study of traffic flows during commuter periods.
The lessons learned (and ideally transferable) from the Stockholm experience are that (i) even a small decrease in congestion—20% in their case—will be perceived positively by road users; and (ii) a gradual or provisional introduction of congestion charges is preferable to a sudden imposition. As well, the lack of strong transit alternatives at present may lead to greater initial user resistance in Ottawa than was the case in Stockholm. At the same time, there is clearly a strong need for incentivising the transition to public transit when it does come, and congestion charges are an effective way to do that.
It should be noted as well that the Stockholm experience had strong national government support, and the referendum was even timed to coincide with national elections. Subsequent to the elections, the city was able to use the referendum success as a way to leverage major transport funding from the federal government, arguing that by improving revenue from commuters, the city was able to pay for a portion of new road development itself. Although it may seem ironic and counter-intuitive that a cordon charge was used to pay for new roads, this did make sense within the very different context of Swedish coalition politics. And of course Stockholm, unlike Ottawa, did not need to use the additional revenue to repair old roads, which were in very good condition!
A few other benefits of the Stockholm charge:
1. Travel times for commuters decreased by as much as 2/3 for peak travel periods, although this varied quite a bit for other travel periods.
2. Transit usage increased by 4-5%. Note that there were some additions to the transit network, intended to provide an additional stimulus to encourage modal switching.
3. CO2 emissions for the wider Stockholm region decreased by 2-3%.
4. Attitudes towards congestion charges improved dramatically both during the trial period and after, suggesting that “familiarity breeds acceptability.”
A detailed examination of the history and impacts of the Stockholm congestion fee experience, written in 2014, can be found at: http://swopec.hhs.se/ctswps/abs/ctswps2014_007.htm
A cost-benefit analysis can found at: http://www.eltis.org/sites/eltis/files/case-studies/documents/stockholmcongestioncbaeliassonn0_8.pdf ;
Carbon Impact Consultants
On March 2nd, Ottawa’s Transportation Committee will receive an estimate from City staff on the time and costs required to conduct a study on user fees for roads.
This is a result of a ‘direction to staff’ moved by committee member and City Councillor David Chernushenko on December 2nd. It was during the city’s 2016 Budget deliberations that two members of the Healthy Transportation Coalition (listen here to related audio from the meeting) urged the City to study the potential effectiveness of user fees for roads, and Chernushenko agreed it would be worthwhile to do so.
The leadership shown by Chernushenko, who is also Chair of the City of Ottawa’s Environment Committee, comes at a time when cities across the country are increasingly showing interest in the subject (see examples in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal) and Ontario is moving forward with a pilot project in the Greater Toronto Area that will see the conversion of some high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes into high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes.
During the Budget 2016 presentations, Ottawa was reminded that Ontario’s Transportation Minister Steven Del Luca has said the province is willing to work with any Ontario municipality that wants to toll a road within its jurisdiction.
A commitment by Ottawa to study various options for a user-pay approach to roads was originally included in the Preliminary Policy Proposals (see User Pay on pages 10, 11) released in January 2013 related to the Building a Liveable Ottawa 2031 planning process, which later that year finalized updates to the city’s Official Plan and Transportation Master Plan. But, unfortunately, the commitment to study user fees for roads did not make it in to the final version of those documents.
This is not the first time user fees for roads in the nation’s capital has been proposed. Indeed, Ottawa is currently in the midst of studying how it might be able to remove thousands of transport trucks from its highly populated Lowertown and Sandy Hill neighbourhoods through the construction of a downtown truck tunnel. A feasibility study on building the tunnel is expected soon, and Jim Watson, Ottawa’s mayor, has said he would want the tunnel to be a toll tunnel to recoup the construction costs associated with building the large underground hole.
And, in 2013, City Councillor Stephen Blais had pushed the idea of charging a toll to non-residents of Ottawa driving into the City, creating congestion on Highway 174. At that time it was reported that Blais thought the plan could raise as much as $5.6 million a year for Ottawa and the move was justified because “traffic from outside the eastern border of the city is contributing to the congestion on the highway but those motorists don’t pay taxes to maintain the road.”
Indeed, there are a number of compelling reasons why Ottawa should move forward with studying a user pay approach for roads, not the least of which is that applying user fees to roads could help the City meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments.
And there are other important benefits that pricing congestion can help accomplish, such as revenue generation, cost savings to drivers, and increased health and safety, all of which were highlighted in a recent Pembina Institue report.
While Ottawa is doing a lot to create incentives for people to use public transit, spending billions of dollars on a new light rail transit system, the first phase of which is due to be completed in 2018, it is abundantly clear not enough is being done to create disincentives for unsustainable transportation behaviour.
Transportation currently accounts for about 40% of Ottawa’s ‘community’ greenhouse gas emissions (emissions created by people who live, work, and play in the nation’s capital are referred to as ‘community’ emissions in the city’s Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan, while emissions generated by the city government’s operations are referred to as ‘corporate emissions’;).
It should also be noted that many of Ottawa’s 6,000 kilometres of roads it is responsible for operating and maintaining are in a state of disrepair. As was recently noted by the National Capital Heavy Construction Association, reports indicate that roads in the nation’s capital are worse than roads in many other Canadian cities:
• According to the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card, while almost 50% of roads in Canada are deemed to be in good or very good condition, the story in Ottawa is quite different.
• In the City of Ottawa, just 20% of all roads are deemed to be in Good to Very Good condition.
• The story gets even scarier when you look at Collector Roads, where over 50% are rated as being in Poor to Very Poor condition.
• The 2014 Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative report would seem to confirm the results of the Infrastructure Report Card.
• The 2014 OMBI report revealed that Ottawa had the worst roads of the major cities participating in the benchmarking study.
• Only 19% of paved roads in Ottawa were rated as being in good or very good condition. This compares to a mean of 54%.
Ottawa is clearly having difficultly funding the proper maintenance and repair of its 6,000 kilometres of roads. The costs of repairing those roads increases exponentially the longer the roads are allowed to deteriorate. Due to a lack of financial resources, Ottawa recently decided to postpone the widening of the Airport Parkway.
An argument could be made that those driving on the roads daily, damaging them with their heavy vehicles, should be paying more of their fair share. Reports from the C.D. Howe Institute, using figures from Transport Canada, have shown that governments routinely do not recoup all the costs associated with building and maintaining our roadways:
“Gas taxes, vehicle licences and other revenues from drivers, which do little to curb congestion, only covered 53 percent of roadway expenses across Canada during the 2009/2010 fiscal year.” (see page 7, Figure 2)
Bolstered by success stories from around the world…
Source: Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission
… and in order to build on the good work of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, and Pembina Institute (both groups have produced great reports on the need for user fees for roads), it is time the nation’s capital showed leadership on this issue, and at a minimum, study the pros and cons of different user pay approaches for roads.
Given Ottawa’s numerous bridges, collector roads and Highways (417, 416, 7, and 174) within its jurisdiction, there are many areas of the city where pilot projects could be established.
We should not have to wait until the truck tunnel is constructed and tolled to see how effective road pricing will be. The city’s financial situation and climate change commitments demand that it take action now.
On May 8th, a bunch of our members sent the following letter on the new Term of Council Priorities to City of Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and all Ottawa City Councillors. On May 9th, Joanne Chianello, city affairs columnist with The Ottawa Citizen, wrote an excellent opinion piece on the same subject titled "Mayor's 'strategic initiatives' short on vision — and consultation"; here is a relevant excerpt:
"And here’s arguably the worst thing about this crop of strategic initiatives: They include a number of items that most reasonable observers would assume were already funded, or have no business being called a new initiative.
Perhaps the most egregious example is the inclusion as a strategic initiative of $4.6 million that is supposed to be spent this year on cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. That biking and walking plan was an integral part of a massive transportation strategy approved by council in 2013. Councillors were rightly shocked to discover those funds were not set aside in the main budget."
Below is the letter we sent; if you too agree with some or all of our priorities, get in touch with the Mayor and let him know
Tel.: (613) 580-2496
Dear Mayor Jim Watson, May 8, 2015
As members of the Healthy Transportation Coalition, we are writing to express our concern that spending related to the City’s Transportation Master Plan, including pedestrian and cycling mobility, are being included as part of the Strategic Initiatives debate instead of the City’s core budget. We urge you to move these items to the City’s 2016 Budget to uphold commitments made in the 2013 Transportation Master Plan, and ensure sufficient funding is spent in these areas every year.
We felt Ottawa took important steps toward a healthier and more sustainable multi-modal transportation system with the 2013 Transportation Master Plan. Some of the measures in the Plan, such as transit-oriented development, expanded pedestrian and cycling networks, and a complete streets policy, are very much supported by our members and citizens of Ottawa.
Transit and active transportation are core parts of the City’s transportation system, and their funding should be treated as core parts of the city’s budget. The 2013 Transportation Master Plan committed $70 million from 2013 to 2031 to improve the cycling network, and $66 million for pedestrian infrastructure, $40 million for multi-use paths, and billions for Light Rail Transit.
However, the serious infrastructure deficit across the country demonstrates that Canadian cities cannot approach transportation from a business-as-usual perspective. We reiterate our request of October 2014 that the City of Ottawa, as part of its Term of Council Priorities, initiate a study to research different options related to a user-pay approach to roads. We believe that looking at new options to manage and fund roads will create a more innovative and sustainable transportation system, one that is more welcoming to all users.
In summary, we ask Ottawa City Council to:
• Ensure that Budget 2016 includes core funding for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure improvements;
• Spend $3.5 million on the Pedestrian Facilities Program in 2015;
• Create a protected bicycle lane network throughout the city;
• Spend $20 million a year on cycling, matching the overall transportation budget to the per cent of people currently riding their bikes;
• Implement a low-income public transit pass accessible to all residents whose income is less than the Low Income Cut Off (and work toward free public transit for those on social assistance [Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program]); and
• Commit to studying user-pay for roads as part of its Term of Council Priorities.
Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your response to this letter and the specific requests contained within it.
Robin McAndrew, Acting Associate Executive Director, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
Wanda MacDonald, Chief Executive Officer, Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre
Catherine Doolan, Board President, Centretown Community Health Centre
Dianne Breton, Chair, Ottawa Seniors Transportation Commitee, The Council on Aging of Ottawa
Kat Fortin, Chair, Ottawa ACORN Board of Directors
Mark Tremblay, Ph.D., D.Litt. (hons), FACSM
Director, Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute
Scientist and Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa
David Sweanor, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Law, Common Law, University of Ottawa
Special Lecturer, Division of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Nottingham
Erwin Dreessen & Nicole DesRoches, co-chairs, Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital
John Woodhouse, Chair of the Steering Committee, Walk Ottawa
Trevor Haché, worker, Healthy Transportation Coalition
The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) releases today its 11th http://itsyourmove.tcat.ca/video/nadieng Please support us by spreading the word about our campaign! Tweet about it: @TCATonline #ItsYourMove Share it on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TCATonline Or share it on your blog with this embed code: K Godkewitschuntitle-HDvimeo from TCAT on Vimeo. http://itsyourmove.tcat.ca/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">video from the It`s Your Move series, featuring Nadien Godkewitsch, Manager of Programs at the Toronto Community Foundation (TCF).
TCF recognized early on the need to improve conditions for active transportation in Toronto and how these improvements would affect the social fabric, health and well-being of communities across the city. Through their 2013 Toronto’s Vital Signs report, they articulated the disconnect between Toronto`s cycling infrastructure goals and the reality of inaction.
"At the current rate of construction, it will take more than 270 years to build the 459km of new bike lanes that Toronto plans to build." - Toronto`s Vital Signs, 2013
TCF has been instrumental in supporting innovative programs and research to increase active transportation. To date, TCF`s grants have supported numerous innovative community engagement initiatives including a landmark study on walkability in Toronto’s tower neighbourhoods, a Canadian active transportation benchmarking report, and a cycling skills program for newcomers to Canada. In 2007, TCF provided founding support to TCAT, making it possible for TCAT to hire its first coordinator, and in 2008 provided matching support for TCAT’s initial “Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business” study (TCAT released its third study on this topic last month.)
Nadien`s video highlights the community benefits of increased walking and cycling. With dedicated funding for active transportation infrastructure projects, we can multiply these community benefits and accelerate the pace of action towards improving quality of life throughout the region. As Ontario municipalities approach a fall election, her message for residents is to get informed on where municipal candidates stand when it comes to walking and cycling. Stay tuned for the upcoming release of TCAT’s 2014 municipal election survey, done in collaboration with Toronto Environmental Alliance, Cycle Toronto, Walk Toronto and Canada Walks, which provides Toronto candidates’ positions on 12 election priorities for walking, cycling and public transit.
The Big Move, Metrolinx’s 25-year regional transportation plan to dramatically improve transportation in the GTHA, includes 25% for local transportation initiatives.It`s Your Move is a strategic partnership with Metrolinx designed to promote the importance of allocating a dedicated portion of this 25% for walking and cycling projects. Each video in the 12-part series features a leader living in Halton, York, Peel, Durham, Hamilton or Toronto and shares personal and professional stories about the benefits of active transportation.
Watch Nadien`s video here: http://itsyourmove.tcat.ca/video/nadieng
The Cities That Spend The Most On Bike Lanes Later Reap The Most Reward
Investing in a network of fully separated bike lanes could save cities huge sums in the long-term. But too little investment in wimpy infrastructure could actually decrease enthusiasm for cycling.
As a new resident in Centretown, an avid cyclist and bike commuter I thought I might try to get a discussion rolling on two wheeled transportation within as well as to and from this central neighbourhood.
For an able-bodied cyclist who likes to race cars, Centretown can be a pleasure to ride in. Biking is the fastest, most convenient way to get around its grid-pattern streets and find free parking on its many bike racks. Cyclists also enjoy relatively low-speed car traffic and many amenities within minutes.
This last spring, my view of this seemingly idylic set of conditions changed dramatically this when a car door opened in front of me while I was riding down Bank St. Luckily there were no cars in the adjacent lane and I ended up with only two very sore knees where they hit the inside of the door. It occurred to me that this accident was preventable with the right infrastructure. As good as biking in Centretown is it would be a lot safer with the implementation of a neighbourhood-wide bike plan based on a network of bike lanes.
There are some great opportunities for new lanes on some of the larger roads. This being said, bus traffic is a definite barrier to implementing bike lanes on Bank St and to a lesser degree Somerset West. Also, the prevalence of on-street parking means that dooring continues to be a risk wherever bikers find themselves between traffic and parked cars. New bike lanes should take these things into account .
The issue of on-street parking is one of the many considerations shaping the discussion on the upcoming O'Connor Bikeway. The current study has asked participants to imagine a redesigning of O’Connor that maintains two lanes of one-way traffic without changes to the current curb lines. At its widest between Laurier and Gladstone, O’Connor can accommodate two lanes of moving cars, bike lanes in both directions with a buffer and a lane of parking. Cutting out parking could provide additional bike space in this current phase or allow for other changes to the streetscape in a future remodelling which includes sidewalks. Since I occasionally take advantage of free parking on O’Connor during the weekends, my self-interest leans me towards keeping one lane of parking. Ideally, I would like to see a bi-directional bike path and parking on opposite sides of the street.
Somerset West is a natural candidate for dedicated lanes as it connects to the Somerset bridge to the East and basically goes all the way to Westboro (albeit with some name changes as it turns into Wellington and Richmond). In the summer, I see more people biking on Somerset than I see on the Laurier bike lanes, especially East of Bank. West of Bank, bus traffic on Somerset West is an issue but I believe that, with good design, bike lanes and buses can co-exist as long as buses have space to turn into stops.
What other corridors could make up a Centretown bike network? There are already some lanes on Percy and Bay though these are in poor repair and end at Somerset. Personally, I think Kent is a good candidate as it extends from the Queensway to Wellington. Like O’Connor, Kent has parking on two sides of the street, though the parking on the West side north of Somerset seems underused. As on O’Connor, I think a bi-directional bike path would really positively affect transportation patterns on that side of Bank.
In many ways, biking in Centretown is much better than many other areas in Ottawa. Ironically this is partly due to how many cars use it but is also influenced by more subtle factors such as the prevalence of one way streets, its almost perfectly flat topography and the general character of the neighbourhood. Ultimately, for me, it is the fast access to amenities such as groceries, the library, city hall as well as the canal and other public places (Dundonald Park) that really make it a bikeable neighbourhood despite serious safety issues.
Because of its relatively high bikeability, it is hard for me to say that Centretown urgently needs a comprehensive bike network. Relatively-speaking we are well served and other neighbourhoods have a much greater need to foster active transport. Hopefully the Coalition becomes a powerful voice to this effect.
Please comment or start your own thread. I’d love to start a discussion on these blogs about biking or other transportation-related issues in Centretown.
What do people think about street parking and buses? What streets should/should not become bike corridors?
One of the stated goals of the Healthy Transportation Coalition is to have 'complete streets' leading to and from important places such as public transit stations, local schools, green spaces and business areas.
Complete Streets, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the basic idea that our streets should really serve everyone, no matter their age, their abilities, or their preferred mode of transportation. The City of Ottawa passed a Complete Streets 'policy' when it updated its Transportation Master Plan in late 2013.
And, given the City's stated commitment to encourage people to take the most sustainable/healthy modes of transportation (that is, to travel by foot, bike, public transit, private automobiles [with that last one being the least preferred]) I was curious to find out what my local city councillor's position was on the subject.
Sadly, I was very disappointed with what I learned:
But, then I read this tremendous rebuttal and it made me feel a little bit better:
I am looking forward to speaking with my fellow Ward 23 - Kanata South residents, to invite them to join the Healthy Transportation Coalition, and to learn from them about where they would like to see their first new complete street built here.
Personally, my preference is for Eagleson Road, since better bike and pedestrian access provided by a complete street leading to the Eagleson Park n' Ride Transitway stop should help encourage more area people to ride public transportation.
Would it not also be amazing if there were VrtuCars, made possible by an Ottawa company, available at the Park n' Ride, too... and some sheltered bike parking?
I could go on, but, suffice to say, we need many improvements in Kanata South before we have a truly healthy transportation network here.