A vision for the future of transportation in Alberta

The Province is currently working on a new long-term transportation strategy for Alberta. Over the last two months, public discussions have been held throughout Alberta and in the spring, an online survey will be released.

“This Strategy – which will focus on all forms of transportation, connections and ways to move people and products – provide an overarching vision for Alberta’s transportation system over the next 50 years. It will also help guide government decisions on transportation investments, policies and programs.”

That’s a big challenge. But it’s exciting to consider!

Since I missed the meeting here in Edmonton, I took a look at the feedback form. It includes a number of questions that aim to capture what the public thinks about the strategy. One of the first deals with the proposed vision for the Transportation Strategy for Alberta:

“A world-class transportation system that is safe, sustainable and innovative, and that supports Alberta’s economy and quality of life.”

I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, but it just seems rather bland, doesn’t it? It’s very expected. And phrases like “world-class” are just meaningless. The proposed vision is also incredibly similar to others. For instance, here is Transport Canada’s vision:

“A transportation system in Canada that is recognized worldwide as safe and secure, efficient and environmentally responsible.”

Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the proposed vision. It doesn’t tell me anything about what transportation in Alberta will look like in the future, especially as you could credibly argue that it reflects the current state of Alberta’s transportation system.

welcome to alberta
Welcome to Alberta by Magalie

What could it be instead? Well let’s consider the context.

The shift from rural to urban has been dramatic in Alberta. According to the 2011 federal census, more than 56% of Albertans now live in population centres larger than 100,000 people in size, and 83% live in urban areas of any size (compared to 81% nationally). We’re an urban province now more than ever. The economic power of cities cannot be ignored.

We know that vehicles are dangerous. According to the World Health Organization, “road traffic injuries are the eighth leading cause of death globally, and the leading cause of death for young people aged 15-29.” Here in Alberta, traffic fatalities have declined significantly from 2007 through 2011, but there are still too many of them. We also know that vehicles have a negative impact on the environment. They contribute to global warming, they contribute to smog, and they take up an incredible amount of land that could otherwise be used more productively.

There are lots of other factors to consider, but I think these are the two most important. Reducing our dependence on vehicles and recognizing the importance of cities should be central any vision of the future of transportation in our province. Unsurprisingly, the two biggest cities in Alberta have already recognized this.

Our neighbours to the south have the Calgary Transportation Plan, which says:

The decisions made today about where and what to build will affect Calgarians for 100 years or more – just as decisions made in the past affect us today. Going forward, the transportation system must perform a wide variety of roles and consider the context of surrounding land uses, be they natural or manufactured. It must provide more choice for Calgarians – realistic choices that are convenient, affordable and attractive. These choices include walking, cycling, transit, high occupancy vehicles (HOV or carpooling) and single-occupant vehicles (SOV).

Here in Edmonton, we have the Transportation Master Plan, The Way We Move. It is even more aggressive:

We are building a 21st century city, shaping an Edmonton that will meet the needs of our diverse and growing urban and regional population. Growing environmental concerns, acknowledgment of the ongoing investment needed to maintain our transportation infrastructure and the rapid growth of our city demand a shift in transportation priority setting. It is a shift from single passenger vehicle use to more public transit; from building outward to a compact urban form. From an auto oriented view of transportation to a more holistic view of an interconnected, multi-modal transportation system where citizens can walk, bike, bus and train efficiently and conveniently to their desired location.

I recognize that Calgary and Edmonton have a completely different context and set of challenges than the rest of the province does, but I think their transportation strategies are informative. Let me also say that I don’t think creating a vision statement is easy. I know a lot of hard work, thought, and difficult discussions are needed to come up with them. That said, I’ll take a stab at it.

Here’s my attempt at crafting a stronger vision for the future of transportation in Alberta:

An innovative and sustainable transportation system that emphasizes high occupancy vehicles and strengthens the global competitiveness of Alberta’s urban areas.

What do you think?

  • Chris Neuman

    Your vision statement is extremely narrow in its focus. It does not address the needs of the 17% of Albertans who live in rural areas, or even the 27% of people who live in urban areas less than 100,000 population. How does an emphasis on HOV and the global competitiveness of urban areas help my brother in Westlock, or my in-laws in Lloydminster? It doesn’t. And how does your vision support natural resource and tourist uses, which — like it or not — cannot be shifted to urban areas and are not going away for some time to come?

    A shift from roads to higher-occupancy modes is noble, but it is not practical for large swaths of this province. Roads supporting single occupancy vehicles in small urban and rural areas will still be required for a long time, no matter how much is spent on urban mass transit or long-distance high-speed rail links. Safety can and is being addressed in a multitude of ways, not just by reducing the number of cars on the road. Province wide crash reductions are the result of better cars, better roads, and better drivers – very little of the difference in the last 5 years has had to do with modal shift. And finally, even HOV modes require infrastructure – and the relationship between mode choice and infrastructure spending is anything but linear. It doesn’t matter if you run one bus or 200 cars per day down a roadway – you still need that road.

    I’ve read enough of your writing that I know you you are reasonable man. But if I didn’t know that and read this, I would seriously question whether you think rural Albertans deserve to be a part of this province’s future. This vision statement is adequate (and, I would say, very appropriate) for a dense city-region like Singapore, or in a dense but highly-developed area like the Boston-New York-Philadelphia corridor. But it doesn’t even come close to capturing the needs of all Albertans.

    Of course, my entire argument collapses the minute flying cars become a reality. Then, have at ‘er.

    • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

      A vision statement is aspirational, it looks to the future, and it answers the question, “where do we want to go?” I’m suggesting the direction we want to go is a greater emphasis on cities and a smaller emphasis on single-occupant vehicles. When a question about where to spend limited resources comes up, we can look to the future we’re trying to achieve for guidance.
      That’s different than a workplan or roadmap, which is what you seem to be talking about. Of course Alberta Transportation needs to consider rural Albertans and other needs. There’s nothing about the vision statement that says we should ignore those who live in rural areas.
      When Microsoft’s vision was “a computer in every home and on every desk” that didn’t mean they ignored everything else, but it did give them focus and a picture of the future they were working toward.

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