City Council Highlights
Below are updates on some of the big issues that were before Council during April.
Future of Transit Routes in Saskatoon
Last month City Council decided on the routes of the Bus Rapid Transit system. As a summary, Council decided:
- BRT would get through the Downtown on 1st Avenue in dedicated bus lanes
- BRT would get to and through Nutana via Broadway with buses using the same lanes as vehicles and stopping at two BRT stations (one near 12th and one near 9th)
- The full system can be seen in the map below:
These decisions have been several years in the making and happened after a tremendous amount of community engagement and public discussion. The Growth Plan that we have been talking so much about is becoming a reality and the decisions reflect the aspirations of a changing city. This is our opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of other prairie cities and get it right—before we become too sprawling and congested. Without making these key decisions about enabling alternative ways to get around our city beyond the single-occupancy vehicle, it is expected that the costs of sprawl and interchanges and new infrastructure will be half a billion dollars more than in we make these early investments.
For example, at the eastern end of College Drive there is the Brighton neighbourhood, where right now less than a thousand people live. However, over the next 30 years, we’re expecting that the number of people living in the eastern part of our city could grow by over 80,000, and the BRT is a way to help create connectivity and avoid congestion by making transit a more appealing option. We can’t build more roads going into our city centre, so we have to make sure that the roads that do exist are serving us well. Right now, our transit system is fairly extensive, but it isn’t very efficient. Simply put, Saskatoon has outgrown our current transit system and this overhaul is necessary.
Council’s decision establishes a 38km BRT that will shape future planning for all new neighbourhood growth on the edges of the city, for an arena and entertainment district in the Downtown, and to stimulate strategic infill growth along the BRT routes such as 8th St, 22nd St, Idylwyld, College Drive, and 25th St.
For more information on Bus Rapid Transit and why Saskatoon needs an overhaul of transit, you can check out the City’s webpage, and for more of my thoughts on what the BRT means for Saskatoon, you can check out my blog post.
Active Transportation in the Downtown
Alongside the decision to overhaul our transit system and as a part of the City’s overall Plan for Growth is the creation of complete streets in the Downtown that allow people walking, driving, cycling, and using mobility aids to all get around safely.
City Council decided that:
- The future network for active transportation in the Downtown would be on 3rd, 19th, and 23rd
- Before any implementation of cycling infrastructure there would be a deeper dive into engagement to try to achieve a design that learns from the shortcomings of 4th Avenue and has a greater chance of being more widely embraced, rather than creating further division in the community. These 4th Ave lanes will also be removed by the end of next month.
City-building can be messy, and it is definitely more of an art than a science. We have learned from this experience and I am committed to improving our processes and finding creative solutions to tough challenges that resist polarization and attempt to bring different perspectives in the same room to seek common ground.
For more information on my thoughts on active transportation in the Downtown, you can check out my blog post.
Changes to the City’s Impound Lot
This week a committee of Council asked for more information on what it would look like for the City to no longer own and operate an impound lot and instead rely on the private sector to deliver these sorts of services.
As it stands right now, the impound lot has been running at a loss for the past the past few years (the average loss from the past four years is $48,000), and without changing something about the business model this deficit is expected to remain. Committee has requested more information about costs of contracting services, what sort of costs can be recovered, and the costs of decommissioning the property where the impound lot currently is.
This exploration is preliminary, but so far it seem to be promising. The property of the City’s impound lot is valued at $2.2M, so there is the potential for this change to be a source of one-time revenue. The City’s administration will be providing more information on this in the coming months.
Preparing for the Effects of Climate Change
City Council was presented with a report on the impacts our changing climate will have on Saskatoon. These impacts pose some very serious and very real threats to our community, and this is particularly important given the recent revelation that Canada is warming at twice the global average.
This report helped to make it clear what a changing climate will mean for Saskatoon if the world continues on its current path. By the year 2100, this includes:
- Six times the number of days with +30°C temperatures
- Average temperatures that are 7°C warmer
- Greater spring flood potential, with 12% more precipitation
- Greater summer droughts (8% less rain from July to September)
We do a lot of planning for creating a successful city when we reach 500,000 people, but we need to really start planning for a city that can succeed with a changing climate and be a leader in sustainability. It is irresponsible for this to not be a priority.
When I visit classrooms of kids throughout the City, they are always asking me about the environment and what are we doing to play our part. This is an area where we need to draw on our history of collaboration and find a way forward that our children can look to and see that they have a future here.
We need strong leadership to help combat the effects of a changing climate, and addressing this problem in full involves a comprehensive approach at the local and global levels. Although climate change is a global issue, it is felt right here at home. We have a report that uses the latest science to properly understand the risks climate change poses and what we can expect over the next couple of decades.
Responding to climate change involves two different elements: mitigation, or the reduction of emissions; and adaptation, or addressing the impacts of climate change already in progress. Both pieces are necessary, and research says that early investment in adaptation and mitigation efforts will be less expensive than the costs of delaying action.
For Saskatoon, a changing climate means we will experience wetter, warmer, and wilder weather than in the past. More detailed climate projections giving a range of scenarios can be found online.
The City’s administration then did a risk analysis of what this changing climate means for the community and City operations. Three high-risk impacts for Saskatoon region are:
- increased demand on the water and waste water, storm water, and power utilities,
- heat stress on outdoor staff and plants/trees, and
- increased populations and diversity of pests as consequences of climate change
For more information, the risk assessment can be found online.
Additional Taxi Licences Issued
This month City Council approved an additional 35 taxi licences as a move to be responsive to the needs of the cab industry. This move was made after significant research and consultation by the City’s administration to help keep the industry competitive and meet the demands in peak periods.
Unlike regular taxi licences, these special licences will be issued directly to drivers in a lottery system for drivers with at least 4 years of experience. This will help cab drivers to make a decent living and it will provide flexibility as to when they can drive, helping to fix the current gap in peak periods.
The goal is to be able to meet 95% of calls/hails within 10 minutes, and with the status quo this is only achieved about half of the time. With these additional cars on the road, this number jumps significantly to being able to meet this expectation 98% of the time. A big thanks to the industry for working with the City to study the data from September 2017 to June 2018 to help inform this decision.
Protecting the Saskatoon Region’s Water Supply
The Environment, Utilities and Corporate Services Committee received an important update on actions Saskatoon can take to protect our water supply from a potential oil spill.
A couple of years ago when a pipeline spilled into the North Saskatchewan River, the water supply of several communities was affected, including Prince Albert’s. Prince Albert was able to access an alternative water supply, but Saskatoon’s analysis shows that this is not financially feasible and that groundwater aquifers would not provide sufficient supply for our community (even if we had stringent water use restrictions in place).
The City’s administration has determined that the best course of action is to install a Powdered Activated Carbon (PAC) dosing system. The system would consist of silos filled with PAC at the raw water intake which would be dispersed during an oil spill. The PAC particles would work within the City’s intake system by attaching themselves to dissolved oil particles for easy removal. The cost of this infrastructure is estimated to be $3-5 million, and the City is now beginning work to develop a funding strategy with regional partners who would also benefit from this system.
For more information on this analysis, you can read the City’s report as well as an overview of all alternatives that were investigated.
Changes to Naming City Infrastructure
This month the changes became official as to how roads, parks, and neighbourhoods in Saskatoon are named. Previously, a committee of Council and Administration came up with a list of potential names and then the Mayor individually chose the names. I always believed that this should be a more collaborative process and that the ultimate decision should not rest solely with the Mayor, and I am happy that this has changed. As a result of these changes, the committee determines the list of names and the Administration applies the names with a mandate for diversity.