“Complete Streets in Canada: Designing for change” webinar recap

This January we hosted “Complete Streets in Canada: Designing for change,” the ninth installment in our monthly webinar series Implementation & Equity 201: The Path Forward to Complete Streets. A recording of the webinar is now available above. You can also download the PDF of the presentation or read the brief recap below.

A discussion recap

Nancy Smith Lea from the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) moderated the discussion. She kicked things off with an introduction to the Complete Streets movement in Canada and TCAT’s role in leading this movement by developing tools, resources, and case studies to guide Complete Streets policies and projects across the country. To date, over 100 communities across Canada have adopted Complete Streets policies as part of their strategic and master plans.

“This new Complete Streets approach designed around data-based decision making helps us create a process which is more transparent, rational, and equitable for all residents.”

Nancy then introduced our first presenter, Peter Murphy, who shared Quebec City‘s experiences implementing Complete Streets. He explained the city’s decision to link design to sustainable health equity by prioritizing investments in active, green, and winter-friendly streets, particularly in underserved areas. Peter also spoke about the city’s partnership with Université Laval to develop an analytic tool that helps them make decisions about where to invest in Complete Streets using a dozen different criteria. The city used the tool for several pilot projects, including the Rue du Pont where Complete Streets improvements led to a 75 percent increase in space devoted to walking, biking, and greenery. This tool was highlighted as one of the Best Complete Streets Initiatives of 2017.

Next up, Ryan Martinson from Stantec‘s Calgary office spoke about creating a culture of Complete Streets in Canada. He described his experience developing process-based guidelines for the City of Edmonton that emphasize flexible, context-sensitive design rather than providing rigid prescriptions. Ryan also emphasized the importance of putting people first when designing streets and explained how fast, impactful changes can help make the case for Complete Streets to elected officials.


We had so many great questions during the Q&A section of the webinar that we couldn’t get to all of them. We followed up with Peter Murphy and Ryan Martinson to discuss the answers to some of the questions we missed.

How has public participation changed in your communities? Have the expectations of activists, elected officials, and business groups changed?

Peter Murphy: Since initiating our Complete Streets project in 2015, public awareness to design issues has increased dramatically and they are generally much more sensitive and open to changes to their living environments, which could positively impact their quality of life. This is partially explained by the fact that we don’t presume to have all the answers, and in many if not most cases we don’t arrive with designs which are too advanced so that participants feel comfortable offering their points of view to improve the designs. So, with our Complete Streets approach, public participation has increased steadily over the last two years. And expectations have increased too: we are seeing increased community mobilization from citizens who would like to see their street environments changed, and we are multiplying our efforts to respond to these increased demands. We have seen little or no opposition from local retail/restaurants to the Complete Streets projects; in fact, many of the requests for streets redesigns are initiated by business associations and owners.

Many of our Complete Streets projects are integrated into consultations for neighbourhood plans. In the case of the route de l’Église it was integrated into the public consultation process for Sainte-Foy’s centre neighbourhood plan. Over the course of three evenings, we had a total of nearly 1500 participants (approximately 500/evening) and received over 100 position papers.

About how many municipal staff are/were involved in the implementation of the bike network and what did the consultation process look like?

Ryan Martinson: Some great information on the implementation of the Cycle Track Pilot in Calgary can be found here. It is definitely a coordinated team effort necessary to implement a network. The process can vary between cities on the levels of engagement, especially if using easily adaptable construction methods since the installation of a grid of that nature may actually be a significant aspect of the engagement process itself. This was the process that the City of Edmonton followed when they implemented their protected bikeway grid in their downtown area.

What do you mean when you refer to ‘security’ when talking about winter streets?

PM: When we talk about security in winter for active transportation, we are generally referring to reducing—and ideally eliminating—accidents due to falls caused by inadequately maintained sidewalks and streets. To help with sidewalk maintenance in winter, minimizing level changes is a big help to increase pedestrian safety. For example, beveled granite curbs, which we have been using extensively along many of our shared streets, may be somewhat less safe for persons with limited mobility because snow tends to accumulate along the beveled edge and that persons with visual deficiencies or in wheelchairs have difficulty seeing the change in level, which creates a safety hazard regardless of the season but especially in winter. Granite curbs with rounded edges placed at the same height above the street paving are safer.

How well-utilized are the bike lanes during the winter months? Do you think the weather will be a big consideration for encouraging more active transportation uses?

RM: As was mentioned in the webinar, a big deterrent to riding in the winter is the condition or maintenance of the routes. With better surface conditions through sweeping, plowing, or surface treatments, more people feel the risk is lower. It is similar to going downhill skiing, snowshoeing, or a winter walk, you need to have some equipment (perhaps consider a studded tire), but a big factor is to dress in warm layers. Weather, cold or hot, is common to be concerned about, but I feel it’s more about the design and operation of the infrastructure as it relates to comfort and safety that people are mostly concerned with.

I recall hearing that Montreal was seeing a 10 percent retention of the summer riders in the winter, Winnipeg would see a 20 percent retention of summer riders in winter, and Calgary had a 30 percent retention of summer riders in winter. There is a definite dip in usage, but I don’t think it would be enough to justify not having the infrastructure, especially if it’s associated with the operation and maintenance quality of those lanes, which we have very high control over.

PM: Concerning year-round bike travel: Currently, the city’s bike routes are officially operational from May 1 to October 31. Increasingly, cyclists are using their bikes year-round, but the number of winter cyclists remains marginal. For the moment, we are concentrating our efforts on expanding and maintaining the planned bike network for use during the warmer periods and possibly expanding the period of operation. In some cases, off-street bike paths (such as those along the Saint-Charles River and the Samuel-De Champlain Promenade) are used for cross-country skiing and snow shoeing during the winter.

The other issue regarding year-round bike use is that in the past, many of the off-street bike infrastructures were not designed to support snow removal equipment. All bike infrastructures are now designed with their winter maintenance in mind to allow us to respond to changes in cyclists’ future riding habits, if need be. We are looking at different techniques to improve the comfort and safety of the pedestrian experience in winter. For example, we are currently working with researchers from the Interdisciplinary Centre for Research in Rehabilitation and Social Integration on an experimental technology to capture heat generated by the city’s sewers and using it to help melt snow and ice in and around pedestrian crossings.

What metrics do you use in your multicriteria analysis?

PM: The metrics used in the multicriteria analysis are as follows:

  1. Connectivity: Space Syntax (a mathematical model developed at University College of London to evaluate the probability that a street will be used to get from point A to point B).
  2. Citizen consideration: Qualitative scale (petitions, neighbourhood council resolutions, etc.)
  3. Pedestrian flow: Estimated number of pedestrians/day
  4. Human activity density: Number of activities/hectare
  5. Street right-of-way: Width in meters
  6. Tree canopy: % of tree cover and priorities identified by the city’s Environmental Service
  7. Deprivation index: Level of material and social deprivation using a statistical model developed by Québec’s National Institute of Public Health
  8. Urban plans: Number and type of existing master plans or neighbourhood plans
  9. Bicycle network: Presence of existing or planned bike routes, in accordance with the city’s bike master plan
  10. Public transit network: Existing and planned transit lines, ranked according to the type of service (rapid, express, local, periodic, etc.)
  11. Security: Ratio of number and type of accidents and flow

Stay tuned for future webinars

Our webinar series has been on hiatus, but we’ll be back before long with new content. In the meantime, you can watch the recordings of all our previous webinars on our blog.

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