This week we’re running a guest blog by Nancy Smith Lea, Director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, a project of Clean Air Partnership.
Every time a street in Toronto is built or re-designed – to accommodate a streetcar right-of-way for instance – we have an opportunity to improve that public space. We could construct streets to be more pedestrian friendly or include bike lanes; we could widen sidewalks to accommodate benches or trees.
Because so many people work on ways to improve our streets and how we move from point A to B, the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) hosts an annual Complete Streets Forum, which will be held on Oct 6, 2014 at Daniels Spectrum.
The Complete Streets Forum is specifically structured to foster cross-discipline knowledge exchange among a wide range of people engaged in novel approaches and thinking about how we use our streets, including planners, engineers, public health professionals, academics, and advocates.
Barbara McCann is credited with first introducing the term “Complete Streets” in 2003. McCann founded the National Complete Streets Coalition in the U.S., now a program of Smart Growth America. According to the Smart Growth America website: “Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”
Increasingly, Canadian municipalities are adopting Complete Streets policies and developing guidelines that allow for a more holistic approach to accommodating all the ways people use their streets. In Toronto, a Complete Streets policy – which would help ensure that pedestrian and cycling improvements are integrated into any new street designs – has been recommended in the Official Plan amendment which goes to City Council for approval at the end of this month. This policy base is important for Toronto’s Complete Streets Guidelines, intended to be a handbook for all City of Toronto departments involved in street planning, design and management.
TCAT’s annual forums are both aspirational – with a goal of overturning decades of car-centric planning – and practical, with a focus on common sense solutions and steady, incremental change.
The October forum includes keynote speakers Dr. John Pucher, the foremost American researcher on comparative government cycling policy, Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, and Dr. Jeannette Montufar, Professor in Civil Engineering at the University of Manitoba who is described as revolutionizing the field of transportation engineering by explicitly incorporating the needs of older pedestrians and people with physical disabilities into street design. Twenty-six parallel break-out sessions have been scheduled with presenters from the GTA, Montreal, Halifax, New York City, Los Angeles, the UK, and elsewhere.
There are a myriad of benefits to be gained from building Complete Streets – from increased safety for all road users, to reduced pollution and congestion, to improved health, as well as economic benefits. And, as this lovely video from the Netherlands demonstrates, embracing a more inclusive approach to transportation planning provides everyone, particularly the young, the old, and people with disabilities, increased autonomy and quality of life.
For more visionary ideas and practical solutions, come to our Complete Streets Forum as we continue to build momentum to improve our shared urban landscape.