Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why We Should Talk About the Transportation Planning Study

In 2006, the Prince Albert Area Transportation Study was commissioned by the provincial highways department, in cooperation with the City of Prince Albert, and the RMs of Buckland and Prince Albert. You may have heard it referred to informally as the Bridge Study, because part of its focus was a second bridge. The study was completed in October 2008 - more than two years ago. It has never been discussed by city council as a whole.

When it was initially received, comments on it were made by two members of the then-council (one of whom is no longer on council), and administration. So the consultant revamped it somewhat, to include a second option for the location of a new bridge - at the base of 6th Avenue East. The other option was to have a new corridor around the eastern perimeter of the city, with the bridge located closer to the airport.

The idea that a highway should pass through a city is old-fashioned, to say the least. The idea seems to be that if you force people to go through the centre of the city, then they will stop to buy locally, rather than carrying on to their destination. Of course, by doing this, traffic is slowed considerably, and the danger of accidents is increased. And if you think about what is located along Sixth Avenue, there's more than a few homes along there, as well as two schools and a church - this is not an area suitable for a high-speed road.

Rather than trying to route high-speed traffic through the city, we should be more concerned about the long-term economic benefits that we could access if we had a fast, efficient way of getting industrial vehicles where they need to go (anyone want to mention the long-awaited diamond possibilities?) - and consider that industry, and the services that they need to access, aren't going to be in the centre of town.

The smaller towns between Prince Albert and Saskatoon are being passed by in the construction of the four-lane highway - speed and safety trump the concern that someone might pass through a small town without purchasing a cup of coffee.

Most people who are heading north will have already purchased their groceries and other supplies. If they haven't, they will stop in for whatever they need. We have to recognize that we are not a shopping mecca for people coming from larger communities to the south - we are the shopping destination for people coming from smaller communities in the north. The destination. As in, they are coming here to do their shopping, not pausing here on their way to somewhere else.

The report is now public, but it hasn't been discussed by council at all. At our last council meeting I made a motion that the report be brought before council because I think that discussing the recommendations is crucial when we formulate our plans for the future. For example, it was mentioned this week that engineering is going to look at coordinating signal lights to improve traffic flow. This is a good step, but we should be looking at future traffic flows as well, thinking ahead to determine what possible problems might be, and trying to avoid them.

We've also had some preliminary talks about annexation. Before we make any decisions there, we should have some idea of what highway corridors might demarcate the outside perimeter of the city, and zone accordingly.

However, as is often the case, the advice from adminstration for this report, two years in the making, and on the shelf for more than two years since originally received, is that we receive and file. In other words, that we not talk about it in council as a whole, possibly because one of the recommendations, the one preferred by the province, isn't one that some members of council want to hear. We should just carry on in our usual way, complaining that we only have one bridge, spending money on other things, and wondering why we can't take advantage of opportunities to share funding with other levels of government by proposing a solution that meets the best interests of all, not just a few.

But in the meantime, instead of focusing on discussing the results of a report that cost us a fair amount of money, we'll continue to spend time and money coming up with a new slogan that might make you forget your impending tax increase, just like "Proud to be PA" did, or "You can't spell paradise without PA". Or maybe it won't, because people realize that a slogan won't build more affordable housing or a second bridge, or reduce the crime rate, or reopen the pulp mill. It will take more than a slogan to solve our budget problems or plan for the future. It takes hard work, and difficult decisions on the part of council, not pretending that our problems can be wished away.

"Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better." - Emile Coue, a French pharmacist, proposed this positive thinking mantra at the turn of the last century

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