Shifting Paradigms

New bike lanes on King St W and Cty Rd 2 in Brockville (Oct 10, 2016)

Many questions and objections to safer roads for all modes of transport are raised frequently in Brockville and in every city moving to create a healthier place that competes to attract and retain families, and businesses that create jobs.

What’s often not well understood is that the paradigm for transportation infrastructure and services has changed irrevocably over the last decade. Municipal planning and transportation engineering was once focused on ensuring that people in private automobiles could get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Over several decades, following that paradigm contributed to unsustainable cityscapes that contribute to social exclusion and inequity, pollution, obesity-related population health decline, constrained property values and other challenges.

Over the last decade, however, that paradigm has changed. Planning and transportation is now focused on providing sustainable and healthy options for people to move about cities. Municipalities are moving quickly to prioritize “all ages, all abilities” accessibility – helping people move around their cities, for purpose or for pleasure. This paradigm shift was described by Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in this 2013 paper (pdf) for the Journal of the International Transportation Engineers.

The new paradigm has been embraced by governments at all levels across North America and Europe, as witnessed by the evidence presented in abundance in this site’s articles. Simply put, the priority now is on allowing people to travel safely, whether choosing to walk, cycle, skateboard, use transit, drive or some combination of any of those modes.

In Ontario, there are 12 ministries of the provincial government and dozens of stakeholder groups collaborating to accelerate this paradigm shift, with changes in the Provincial Policy Statement, changes in the Highway Traffic Act, updated highway design guidelines and requirements, and municipal funding. Almost all professional organizations understand the need for this shift and are supporting it.

The paradigm that led us once to say that someone can find a nice alternate route is no longer accepted. The question, for example, is not “why Laurier?”, but rather “why aren’t we moving quickly to make every street safe for all ages and all abilities?” The paradigm that led us once to say that, “the street is too dangerous” now leads us to say, “well, let’s make the street safe.”

The public workshops leading up to the creation of Brockville’s 2009 Official Plan recorded comments from many asking for improved walking and cycling support. The Official Plan commits the city to implement a cycling network. Council’s commitment was reinforced last September when it endorsed and adopted the Healthy Community Vision, including active transportation in support of, “All community members have the opportunity to make the choices that enable them to live a healthy life, regardless of income, education, or ability.”

This paradigm shift is not comfortable for everyone. There are some societal changes that some find difficult to accept, for any number of reasons. As witnessed in just about every city that evolves, those opposed to change mount campaigns based on fear, uncertainty and doubt. Yet cities do evolve and in almost every case, the benefits of safer roads for all conform and contribute to the growing evidence base. As with Brockville’s upgrades to Cty Rd 2 and King St W pictured above, the world does not end. We cannot shy away from moving ahead to create a healthier city.

Author: Alan Medcalf

Alan is a post-corporate, volunteer, community builder living in Brockville, Ontario. He seeks to create sustainable lifestyle advantage for the community by creating opportunities for more people to choose to walk and to ride bikes. He promotes the health, social, environmental and economic benefits of active mobility.