Time to Revisit the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) 2016
The current version of the RGS has been in preparation over the past three years; first, as a draft Regional Sustainability Strategy (RSS) and now as an update of the 2003 RGS. The document has several merits particularly in being more accessible and with a recognition of some current issues such as the environment, housing and climate change. In that respect, I strongly support those sections of the document but suggest much has changed in recent years and that it falls short in the Sections 1, 4 and 5 dealing with current and future relationships between land use, transportation and the economy.
To support that conclusion, there is a need to acknowledge several current realities--
First, over the past year, we have almost daily evidence the region suffers serious traffic congestion because traffic exceeds the capacity of our road systems. Almost weekly, an accident results in virtual traffic gridlock all the way from Langford to the University of Victoria; and, often public access to airport and ferries is seriously delayed. Your own projections identify that daily trip movements will increase by 145,000 of which only 50,000 will be by transit. [For a reality check, please study the implications of your own traffic demand and traffic loads on pp. 92 and 93 of your Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and the mode share projections on ES2/3 of the RT Service Feasibility Study attached to this submission.]
Second, there is a common perception that congestion is merely an inconvenience for the rush hour journey to work simply being solved by increased transit or cycling. It ignores those travellers trying to get to the airport or ferry on time or the hundreds of daily truck and other service deliveries. Taxis, ambulances and buses are seriously delayed. I live in Saanich and for several hours a day, I can experience lengthy delays to travel up Island, shop at Costco or attend appointments or visitations at Victoria General Hospital.
Third, the CRD region is experiencing a robust economic climate with significant increases in housing, employment and tourism, with implications for land use and daily travel patterns. It may be appropriate to re-visit population projections to assess current estimates as they are likely to exceed previous projections. And, while the CRD and municipalities belatedly try to deal with the issue of homelessness that has distracted the region from the potential realities of the other end of the socio-economic scale, Vancouver Island has been ‘discovered’ on both the national and international scene, and we must be prepared for the consequences of this. Of note, your population projections in the RGS 2003 underestimated 40,000 of actual growth.
Fourth, buried on page 34, Table 2, the RGS lists a target to a shift in walking, cycling and transit share of daily movements from a current 21% to a remarkable 42%. While aspirational, I suggest this is virtually impossible to achieve solely by an increase in bus transit and without new arterial routes AND a visionary plan, major capital investment and implementation that includes some rail routes. Yet, the word, rail, is not mentioned in the RGS (and the Blue Bridge project makes no provision for a rail crossing).
Fifth, we well understand the unfortunate political reality that under recent legislation, the scope and focus of RGS is subject to the intentions of each municipality, and local Official Community Plans (OCPs) have equal if not often superior weight to RGS. The RGS before us seems to take the safe route, careful not to challenge local fiefdoms. (No wonder 13 is too many!) Hopefully with the proposed Regional Transportation Service, you can provide more leadership.
In response to the above consider the following:
1. The RGS seems to ignore employment, the need for additional industrial space and movement implications for commercial and tourist traffic. It seems to perpetuate the misunderstandings from the major shortcomings in the 2003 RGS:
“Downtown Victoria remains the regional employment, business and cultural centre but is complemented by a major employment and population centre in Langford and Colwood”.
While true as a valid objective, it ignores three other factors that now actually shape inter-municipal traffic patterns: other major employment centres, i.e., Dockyard, Keating and airport industrial; the massive traffic generated by the growth of UVic and which is now underway at Camosun/Technology Centre; and the implications of tourist and commercial traffic for the airport and ferries. Over 40% of traffic leaves Highway 1 at McKenzie! Both the RGS and the RTP fail to acknowledge these factors.
2. While Victoria is making progress in increasing the population of the downtown core, the OCPs for the majority of our municipalities only allow for nominal growth in population which, by default, leave the locus to Saanich, Colwood and Langford. And, growth there simply aggravates the transportation issue. The sum of 13 self-serving OCPs does not equal a regional plan!
3. The emphasis on compact urban settlement is laudable to achieve objectives to reduce urban sprawl and encroachment on ALR or resource lands. But, community centres only recognize where we sleep and the need for local schooling. It ignores the reality that where we work, play, learn and shop is not at home and often, it is not even in one’s own municipality. Inter-municipal travel is a necessity.
4. The draft RGP and the RTP indicate that the prime access route for BOTH residents and travellers/tourists to and through the region is, and will be confined to, provincial Highways 1 and 17 and that vehicle traffic will be directed to use that route. Yet, your own studies show that present use exceeds capacity and simply improving intersections is not sufficient. It is evident that only Colwood, Langford and the upgraded Douglas corridor have recognized the need for enhanced routes to or through the region. All other municipal OCPs ignore the necessity for alternative arterial routes and simply assume that their neighbor will provide residents with viable routes. The Helmcken/Interurban impasse seems to be ignored and the problem gets increasingly worse daily. And, proposed residential/commercial developments will undoubtedly further congest and magnify safety concerns at the Beacon Avenue intersection.
5. Reaching short term objectives to increase the transit share of daily trips from the current 7% to 12% will be challenging without significant institutional reform and funding. But, even if we could, it won’t match the projected increase of 165,000 daily trips. Further, buses travel on roads so even with increased service more buses all stuck in traffic can’t get to UVic any faster than a single car and driver. Aspirations for a shift to multi-modal transportation must not ignore private vehicle movements, which will continue to dominate traffic movements.
To reinforce this position, ask: Does the draft RGS provide any answers or even a sense of direction for the following:
First: The CRD region claims to be the ‘Gateway to Vancouver Island’. This is not merely a slogan but is critical to both tourism and business sectors for private vehicles and commercial traffic. The airport and ferries are at the far end of the region with residents, tourists and commercial vehicles stuck at both ends of the lineup. If we are to sustain the economy and provide future jobs, the RGS should be strengthened to emphasize mobility for both residents, business and tourists. The RGS seems to pay only lip service to this objective. Congestion, here in our region, can be a determining factor for travellers and businesses to shift north to Nanaimo ferries and enhanced airport and industrial parks elsewhere.
Second: Both our federal and provincial governments have announced their intention to provide infrastructure funding. Does your RGS provide any indication of even a generalized set of Capital Region priorities other than sewage?
Third: Our region is spread out with most new residential areas not adjacent to destinations, e.g. Downtown Victoria and the four industrial areas of Keating, YVR, Discovery Park and Dockyard. Neither of the two largest educational institutions (UVic and Camosun) nor the VGH or Royal Jubilee health complexes, the airport or ferries are located in central locations. Journey to any of these, plus major shopping, results in almost 70% of all trips dependent on inter-municipal travel. Yet, the RGS and RTP ignore that reality and fail to present a real plan, other than a forlorn hope for multi-modal solutions.
To confirm my concerns, a review of Provincial policy guidelines (see attached summary version) explicitly states 14 matters that each RGS should consider. Your current draft does a commendable job of meeting many but it falls short of meeting provincial expectations of at least three:
- Efficient movement of goods and people, i.e., dealing with congestion and provision for growth
- Economic development that supports the unique character of communities, i.e., how and where residents
are employed, and where tourists and goods move
- Adequate inventories of suitable land resources for future settlement, i.e., industrial/commercial lands
Note: that in the absence of leadership and sense of direction with your own RGS, by default the Province will decide your priorities and capital investments.
In trying to please everybody, whether from public interest groups or municipal councils who offer a chorus of differing views, you have identified some high profile topics, i.e., Climate Action, Food, but have ignored some unpleasant realities. While today we are here to discuss the RGS, it is also clear that the Regional Transportation Plan approved in 2014 also suffers the same shortcomings.
For the above reasons to be relevant to all of the Objectives on page 8 of the RGS, the current version is weak with regards to regional economy, land use patterns and transportation. It needs to be strengthened. If these are not identified in the RGS, then member municipalities are NOT obligated or in a rush to amend their OCPs to make these objectives a reality.
Note: The 2014 RTP needs to be updated to reflect serious concerns noted in this submission. In particular, Strategic Action Objectives of the RTP No. 1 makes no reference to commercial traffic. The same applies for No. 3 as no progress been made in designating regionally significant arterial corridors, particularly that relate to the regional role as ‘Gateway to Vancouver Island’, with safe and critical links to airport and ferries.
As to the RGS, the following are suggestions for changes of direction in revisions:
- Revise text to reflect urgency of dealing with transportation and the economy.
- Acknowledge the role and responsibility to serve as ‘Gateway to Vancouver Island’ and to serve travelling
public and tourist traffic.
- Acknowledge the need for land use policies and a regional plan that provide for commercial/industrial
- Stress the priority need for updated OCPs that recognize and provide options for inter-municipal routes.
- Place more emphasis on rail if the target of 42% mode shift is to be realistic.
- Provide some indication of priorities for capital investment.
Submitted to the Capital Region District, October 17, 2016, by James Anderson, a resident of Saanich, (250) 477-8255;