Council passes a study focussing on transit, bikes and feet | by Paul Dechene

I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for the Downtown Transportation Study.

Last summer, while it was still being drafted, Councillor Bryon Burnett put forward a motion at a July council meeting asking administration to consider the feasibility of keeping full-size buses out of downtown.

Entirely. No full-size buses downtown. At. All.

Instead, he suggested we look into a free shuttle service to move people within the city’s core. All other transit would be routed around downtown’s fringe with passengers dropped on Albert St., Broad St. or Saskatchewan Drive.

It was a crazy idea, and so obviously inimical to the Downtown Neighbourhood Plan’s goal of making downtown a transit and pedestrian friendly environment that I figured — because I’m a horrible pessimist — it stood a pretty good chance of being green lit by city hall.

Shortly after that meeting I discovered Mayor Michael Fougere had mentioned a downtown shuttle during his 2012 election campaign and that said to me that this was an idea with some political muscle behind it.

Months passed, and I nearly forgot about the shuttle. But in the lead up to the release of the Downtown Transportation Study I started to hear all sorts of rumours: the downtown shuttle is going ahead regardless of what those big-city, pro-transit consultants say; the transit hub is moving from 11th Avenue to Saskatchewan Drive; the transit hub is moving to the Warehouse District; the transit hub is moving to White City and the bus fleet will be replaced with winged griffons. Insane stuff.

But then the Downtown Transportation Study was actually released at council’s April 14 meeting and none of that came to pass. Not even the winged griffons. Instead, the recommendations approved seem fairly reasonable and not too distant from what was contemplated in 2009’s Downtown Neighbourhood Plan — only there’s a lot more detail than we saw in the DNP.

In the short term, the main transit hub in downtown will remain on 11th Avenue with only the two stops in front of Old City Hall Mall moving to the block between Lorne and Cornwall Street.

To improve the area where transit riders wait for buses, $200,000 from the General Fund Reserve was earmarked to boost security patrols and to improve amenities on the street such as garbage bins and bus shelters.

And the city will explore opportunities to share the costs for some of these transit infrastructure improvements with partners such as the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District.

Now, if it seems like this is a lot of effort expended on transit operations downtown, administration’s report points out that over 6,000 people use city buses to travel to and around downtown on an average workday. And that number is growing. And while the city has just barely begun to promote transit in the city, bus ridership is up nearly 14 per cent.

Of course, the Downtown Transportation Study is a longer and more comprehensive document that covers much more than transit. It’s impact should be felt by cyclists, pedestrians and car drivers as well.

In the near term, the report calls for more cycling infrastructure on downtown streets and for the establishment of a Downtown Transportation Working Group within city administration that will address transportation issues as they emerge.

One issue that emerged between March 12 — when the Downtown Transportation Study was discussed at a private meeting of executive committee (that’s the committee that includes all members of council) — and executive committee’s April 2 public meeting, is a recommendation for a new parking garage for downtown. This add-in from the committee calls for administration to explore partnerships with other organizations to build a new parking structure. This comes despite the fact that the Downtown and Vicinity Parking Study has yet to be completed.

Local transit and cycling activist, John Klein, spoke against the parking garage proposal saying that a dramatic increase to the parking capacity downtown will only encourage more cars to drive there and lead to more traffic congestion. But his killjoy reasoning didn’t dim council’s enthusiasm for the idea.

Longer term, the Downtown Transportation Study also contemplates improvements to downtown sidewalks and the Broad St. underpass, better signage and wayfinding, a new bikeway on 12th Avenue and an extension of the Lorne St. bikeway to 11th Ave. Even longer term, the study suggests streetscaping for 11th Ave., resurfacing 11th Ave to accommodate bus traffic and converting 13th Ave. from a one-way street into a two-way in the downtown.

Councillor Barbara Young suggested another tweak during the council meeting. It was to examine the possibility of putting a loading area on the north end of the Scarth St. pedestrian mall. She spoke of the difficulty that people in wheelchairs have finding a suitable area to get in and out of vehicles in the evening, and of how many of the businesses on Scarth St. have limited access to the alleyways when they need to receive deliveries.

Globe Theatre, she says, once even had to walk crates of costumes delivered from Stratford through the Cornwall Centre because they couldn’t find anywhere else to have the truck drop them off than the loading area on Saskatchewan Drive.

Young’s proposal to consider scooping out a small section of the pedestrian mall for use as a drop-off spot seems an elegant fix for a pretty complex problem.

If only every downtown transportation problems could be so simple to solve.