Downtown #Barrie Deputation at City Council

I delivered a deputation at #Barrie City Council this week about the Dunlop St. EA. Here are the comments in case you’re interested :)

Good evening your Worship, members of council and members of our community in the audience and watching from home. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak before you tonight.

As I am sure you’re all aware, opportunities to completely ‘make-over’ a community’s main street are infrequent, something that might happen once in a generation. As a result, it’s incredibly important to ensure a vision for the future is used, rather than a lens reflective on the present day. With this in mind, I am concerned that the vision as presented by Staff through the ongoing Dunlop St EA is rooted in the past, and not focused on our future. I am here tonight to request that Council send this item back to Staff to rethink and research some alternatives that do not include on-street parking.

I can’t understand why on-street parking is included in every single one of the alternatives reviewed/suggested. Additionally, the recommended alternative is really little more than the ‘do nothing’ approach and this is a disservice to all of us in Barrie, perhaps especially those who live outside of the downtown and who subsidize it through our property taxes. There is already a surplus of parking in the downtown, one needs to only review the parking garage budget to recognize this. There also seems to be a disconnect between the potential for business success and having on-street parking. Parking is not what makes a business successful, just as vehicle throughput does not define a successful downtown core. It’s a fact that retailers consistently overestimate the share of their customers who arrive by car. A 2011 study in Vancouver, on Hornby and Dunsmuir street indicated that shop owners overestimate the share of drivers by 100%. Further to this overestimation of cars, they are underestimating the share of cyclists by 50%. In another more local study done by TCAT in 2009 indicates 70% of shop owners over estimated the car share mode, while the stats showed 90% of customers arrived by walking, cycling or public transit.

The City’s Multi-Modal Active Transportation Master Plan [MMATMP], which was approved by Council, recommended providing an increased emphasis on non-auto modes including a 100% increase over current levels of AT mode share and 170% increase in transit mode share. This is an average rate across the City, in reality the target mode share will need to be higher in the downtown core to meet the targets across the entire City. The road network and capital budgeting for the City is based on meeting this target, if the City does not provide the necessary infrastructure to achieve this mode split target, the road network across the City will be proportionately strained and likely operating over capacity. In short, engineering design is currently underway to build a road network which will accommodate the traffic for a City that is placing a priority on AT, if we do not provide the necessary AT infrastructure, we are essentially building roads that will not meet the demand and providing no viable alternative. Sharrows which have been suggested through Alternative Five are quite literally the absolute minimum type of cycling infrastructure which could be implemented, and it’s definitely not enough to realize an increased mode share.

As we plan our main street’s redesign, I urge council to direct staff to embark on research like what I’ve noted. Before we implement an alternative that is essentially catering to the car, can we get some data to ensure that this is the best choice for the future of our city and downtown?

Looking at the alternatives suggested, and the rankings based on comment sheets and community member feedback it’s interesting to note that the recommended alternative (number 5) was only preferred by 23% of respondents. A full 46% of respondents preferred alternatives 2 or 3, both of which support a much more drastic change the streetscape along Dunlop through the downtown. 23% would like to see Dunlop closed to vehicle traffic entirely and permanently. Another 23% would like to see Dunlop St closed to vehicles every summer, yet staff are recommending that we go with a different alternative.
I am not confident that our population density can support a fully closed Dunlop St in the summer, or all year however I think it’s incredibly important to consider that a majority of respondents want something different than what we have today. If for example alternative 4 were considered, without allowing for any on-street parking along Dunlop St, it could provide a complete street environment, a protected bike boulevard, expanded sidewalks, permanent patios and improved accessibility for those members of our community who are aging.
A couple of evidenciary notes about the Economic Benefits of Investment in Cycling Infrastructure
• New York City found that protected bike lanes had a significant positive impact on local business strength. After the construction of a protected bike lane on 9th Avenue, local businesses saw a 49 percent increase in retail sales. In comparison, local businesses throughout Manhattan only saw a 3 percent increase in retail sales.
• Portland State University researchers found that customers who arrive by bike spend 24% more per month than those who arrive by car.
• Traveling by bike encourages more frequent stops than a car. In a study of Toronto merchants, patrons arriving by foot and bicycle visit the most often and spend the most money per month.

Your worship, members of council. The opportunity to re-envision our main street and downtown in such a full and complete manner has never presented itself in my lifetime before, and I’m not confident we’ll get this opportunity again. We as a City have heavily invested into our downtown with the belief and understanding that it is a critical area for our community, its financial health and over-all well-being, I implore you to ensure that we develop a vision that is forward thinking and representative of the downtown we wish to have, not the downtown we already do. In 20 years, do we want our Downtown to be described as cute, quaint and adorable (much like Stayner’s is today), or do we want to embrace the fact we are Central Ontario’s metropolitan hub and design a downtown to match?

Thanks very much for your time this evening. Again, I am requesting for Council to send this back to Staff for further investigation and visioning. If there are any questions I’m more than happy to take them now.

hrmmmm…..cottage time??