Claws For The U-Pass

In the Carillon student paper this week is my letter to the editor, and Mr. Musleh’s response to my rebuttal of his tepid reception for the latest U-Pass effort underway by students with the support of the University President.

While Mr. Musleh frames my response as a personal critique, it’s actually taking issue with his facts and what his goal is in stating his version. For instance, where did I say or suggest “collaboration with the University will not work”? Asking questions is fine, and seeking details commendable, but doing so to scuttle the latest effort to bring a sustainable transportation plan to the University is not helpful.

I assure him that it’s not “at best dramatic” to suggest that fertile land will be lost to construction if we continue to fail as a city and university to fix our transportation issues. The UofR has already considered ‘developing’ the community gardens on Grant Rd. with residences or some other buildings. One need only look north on Broad St. to the new Badham Blvd. to see this is a real danger in Regina.

Another fact not yet mentioned enough is the UofR administration now actively supports a U-Pass proposal, while previously that was lacking. As for not seeing work done on U-Pass in the past 10 years, I invite Mr. Musleh to attend at least one U-Pass organizational meeting, or to look at what’s been done at the dozens of other campuses that have since implemented such an idea.

Like Mr. Musleh, I’d prefer the City commit to improved bus routes prior to students voicing their support in the referendum, but transit-hostile Council members won’t allow that to happen as it did recently in Winnipeg. So are students to give up for now (again) as Mr. Musleh suggests, or instead take charge and start making very reasonable demands of City Council to fix the Transit system in their city?

Councillor Hawkins in the Leader Post suggested he’d vote against the student’s democratically decided wishes if the voter turnout is “small”. Student votes are traditionally low, often as small a voter turnout as for those who elected Councillor Hawkins to Council. Why wouldn’t students want to oppose a Councillor who in part raised their bus passes by $200 with no service level improvement? By passing a referendum that says students can have a pass for LESS than the increase imposed by Hawkins, students win.

If the referendum is successful, city council will still have to vote on the proposal. One thing Hawkins will be watching is voter turnout at the referendum. “I don’t think that a small voter turnout among the student body will tell us anything on this. So, I think that the voter turnout is going to make a difference here.”

Let’s keep in mind what we’re trying to achieve, and who/what we’re struggling against to change the status-quo, and not fuss so much over any perceived imperfections in a new-to-Regina system well tested and used elsewhere. And that’s a criticism of Regina as a whole, not Mr. Musleh specifically.

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Applause for the U-Pass

To The Carillon:
In response to the op-ed two weeks ago by Shaadie Musleh “The flaws of the U-Pass“, I’d like to offer “Applause for the U-Pass”. First, people should note that Mr. Musleh says the U-Pass is “a good thing to do”, and he’s in favour of “working towards a practical, sustainable, and efficient transportation system for the University of Regina”.
While we could dicker about the hypothetical figures presented in the op-ed, the larger point is that there is no better means for the UofR students to create a practical, sustainable, and efficient transportation system than to vote “Yes” for the U-Pass this year. Nothing else that comes close to what Musleh wants done is even on the horizon or mentioned in his article, and the U-Pass has been in the making for the better part of the last decade. It’s not time to sentence it to death by delay or further study, while every major university around us is benefiting from such a transportation system.

A Yes vote for the U-Pass is a vote to save the vast majority of students a lot of money on their transportation needs, and will make the University of Regina a better place to study, and Regina a better place to live and get around. Those who don’t opt-out and end up not directly using their U-Pass, will indirectly benefit anyway through more parking spots becoming available both on and off campus. Basically students have the choice of voting No, and spending more on parking as lots sprawl ever farther from buildings, or as we build ~$33,000/stall parkades. Or, they can vote Yes and spend less on bus passes than the City intends to charge students today, and still get more parking spots available without paving more recreational areas, or demolishing buildings and community gardens.

It’s not every year that an opportunity comes around for students to democratically decide how the City of Regina will spend millions of dollars for the direct benefit of students. A Yes vote makes UofR students into civic leaders saying “More buses, now,” and empowers student leaders like David Vanderberg, and Devon Peters to continue to work out the details Mr. Musleh is fussing over without all of the facts known. Yes, it would be nice if the City would commit to a few improvements first, but students do not have to wait for transportation leadership from a timid and even inept civic government.

John Klein

Regina, SK

Vote Yes for the U-Pass at University of Regina

In response to Coun. Hawkins, many profs want to buy a U-Pass, and I think everyone at City Hall should be using #Transit to get to work downtown unless they live there already, that includes Councillors.

“All students” wouldn’t be required to pay into the program, yet all would benefit from paying into it anyway because the Transit system Hawkins helps under-manage will have millions of dollars more AND the leadership Hawkins (and most of Council) fails to provide to improve transportation in Regina.

More thoughts on Thursday about this subject.

#YQRcc City Council Asks Students to Take Lead on #Transit

In Winnipeg, political leaders take the lead, and set aside money to encourage students to do the right thing. Here, students are our community’s leaders, and City Council should resign and get out of their way.

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Also mostly ignored by Council were the delegates from Bike Regina, who were asked the same question out of left field they were asked last year, after giving a very thoughtful and considerate budget presentation.

The no-new-money commitment our City’s politicians have made toward active transportation this year, is rather discouraging, not to mention unenlightened.

John Klein, #Transit Advocate #YQRcc

Advocating for better transit in Regina isn’t altruistic, it’s self serving with collateral benefits for strangers.

While acknowledging Saskatchewan’s strong “car culture,” Regina Mayor Michael Fougere has doubts about a deep-seated aversion to transit among suburban residents.

He says many more people would take the bus if it were the most convenient option.

If social stigma isn’t keeping the upper crust off the bus, that means Regina City Council (#yqrcc) hasn’t made a desirable #transit system even they’d consider using while dragged under the public spotlight by Councillor Fraser’s 10 Days of Transit challenge to them.

Regina transit advocate John Klein argues that many people don’t ride buses because their routes are poorly designed and their operating hours are too short.

“The routes aren’t great because we don’t have many buses running,” said Klein, who relies on Regina Transit, cycling and a car-share program to get around.

Fougere, however, disagrees. He stresses that the city is continuing to invest in transit improvements such as a route redesign completed earlier this year.

“The evidence of this success,” the mayor said, “is the nine per cent (ridership) increase last year and the growing increase this year.”

I wonder how the 0% decrease-funding of #Transit by #yqrcc the last umpteen years, and the route changes this year, can be credited to the 9% increase in use last year? No additional buses added to a fleet with growing demand seems like a paltry, or non-existent “investment”.

It’s not my job to explain to the mayor how not to sound absurd, but I make it my hobby to point it out when it impinges upon my ability to get around our city.

Continue reading

Hillsdale Walking #YQRcc

Here’s a list of fun projects for the City to tidy up. I emailed this to a Councillor I had the email address for, and if you agree (or disagree) with these, I welcome you to contact Service Regina or your Councillor with comments.

1 – street sweep Wascana Parkway bikelane southbound, by the new construction, and remove the Cyclists Detour sign before Hillsdale St. that has been there over a year.

2 – construct a permanent or temporary Multi-Use Path (MUP) bike lane through the tree nursery south of the Broad St. bridge to connect to Hillsdale St. near Robert’s Plaza. This would give cyclists (and pedestrians) a safe(r), direct route south rather than crossing 2 lanes of high speed vehicle traffic to make it to the Wascana Parkway bike lane (southbound).

Unfun projects to stop:

3 – Sticking with Wascana Parkway, I spoke with one other resident of Hillsdale, and they are not happy about the plan to install a fence to keep pedestrians the second priority on the street they use hundreds of times a day. I suspect this fence will violate some of the findings of the upcoming Transportation Master Plan (TMP), so delaying it until after then would be a partial win, so later the project to build a fence all the way around Hillsdale can be shut down completely. Want to make the neighbourhood more unwalkable? Wall it in, like Berlin (or Gaza). I’ve never tried walking out of Gaza before, but I picture it like walking out of Hillsdale, except here it’s with fewer armed checkpoints (and a lot colder).

The north pedestrian detour over crossing between intersections takes people 5 times farther than the 100m direct route from McNiven to the RIC steps. People crossing into College West, taking the south detour post-fence go from a 150m walk to almost 500m. This is like telling people to shop at Cornwall Centre only after having parked south of Victoria Ave. It’s humanly possible, but it’s a little inhumane in Winter. 4 extra blocks of walking, each way.

Note the grooves in the ground where people want to walk, sometimes called goat trails, other times known as “desire lines”.

4 – City made the CBC news today for failing to keep a railyard fence up, and the person in the story left in the comments that City or railyard staff lied about the fence’s status and the frequency with which it was checked for erectness. Hmm, when the Wascana Parkway Fence is damaged by throngs of people ignoring it, will the City continually spend time ‘fixing’ it? I’d like the fence money to go to an intersection improvement, not be wasted keeping people from getting to where they are going by foot.

Train underpass crossing is safer, but it also floods. Signs must go up promptly to give alternate routes when Spring flooding takes place.

Campion College – Transportation Lecture

The following is a transcript of most of my speech available on YouTube, given today at Campion College student commons.

I’m very pleased to have been asked to speak at Campion College about transportation issues. I got my Computer Science – co-op degree from here a decade ago, and I never imagined at the time that I’d wind up the President of a different sort of “co-op”, the Regina Car Share Co-operative. At the time, I had no idea that “car sharing” was even a thing. I’d heard of car pooling of course, but they are different. It wasn’t until I returned to work at the UofR, that I got an email about a group of people holding a pot luck supper in Regina to discuss forming a “car share”, and I thought that sounded like maybe a good way to use a car without the unpleasantries of maintaining one. A few years later, I was chosen to help guide a remarkable group of volunteers who make organized car sharing possible in our city, as it is in almost every other major Canadian and American city today.

Why am I interested in transportation? Well, I’m interested in nearly everything, but where curiosity meets reality is on the streets. Nearly everyone in the world has a daily need to move about the farm, town, or city they live at, and so modes of transportation are essential to how and where we live. If transportation isn’t timely or fun, people don’t enjoy where they live as much as they should. I don’t think car repair is fun, and feel dealing with SGI is about the worst thing that could administratively happen to someone (short of being charged with a crime). So I’ve set out to make transportation both timely and fun for myself, and it just so happens that I need to make it that way for the people around me too, in order to be successful.

Another big reason I’m interested in transportation improvement, is that it’s a major contributor to air pollution and climate change. These are not small, or easy problems to solve, but our little daily actions collectively point our society in either the right or wrong direction. Right now, Regina is unquestionably pointed in the wrong direction, and among our collective actions pointing us there is how we get around every day. Since public talks are always more fun with interaction (I think so anyway, because otherwise I tend to get sleepy especially if the speaker has a mono-tone voice like mine,): How many people got to University today by themselves in a motor vehicle? How many car pooled? How many took the bus? How many biked or walked?

As you can see, most people took a car. What are some of the reasons for taking a car, even though most of us also recognize that cars are responsible for air pollution we’d rather not create? Is it convenience? Fun? Lack of effective alternatives? Habit? I think there are ways we can make modes of transportation that are not single-occupant cars, the fun, convenient, habit forming alternatives.

Bikes – Regina isn’t known for being a hotbed of cycling culture. That’s changing though, as cycling groups are popping up more often, from the Wascana Freewheelers, to Bike Regina, and they are providing the City with feedback through the Official Community Plan (also known as Design Regina). This Winter, a Bike Regina board member helped clear multi-use paths that were totally blocked by snow drifts, simply by letting City Hall know that there is demand among cyclists for these off-road paths to be available year round.

There is presently a vast network of both on-street, and off-street cycling infrastructure in Regina. Yet most of it is not well connected to each other segment. If you’ve driven down Wascana Parkway, and get to just before the Broad St. bridge, you might recognize a sign that says “Bike Lane Ends”. Well, when I see it, I imagine a cyclist getting to the end of the bike lane, and then popping out of existence, only to pop back into existence on the other side of the bridge. This is the logical thought process of the person who designed that street and bike lane. The only other possibility is that they expected the cyclist going 30km/h to join the vehicle traffic decelerating from 70km/h to 50km/h, while the two motor-vehicle lanes narrow down to a lane and a half in Winter.

This sort of thoughtless, car-centric street design encourages fair-weather cyclists to make good use of their car instead of trying a bike. Regina presently has mostly fearless cyclists I’d suggest, who are willing and able to intermingle on the streets with cars, trucks, and buses. This sort of rider does not describe most people, however. Without a street design that makes a separate (or visibly different) space for bikes and cars, it’s really not possible to convince a large number of people to commute by bike and make it their primary vehicle.

Car Sharing – If you’re not familiar with car sharing, it’s basically a way to share vehicles that are owned by a business, through an online booking system, and self-serve car rental model. The end result is supposed to mean that you can book time in a car from your smart phone, go about your driving task, fill up the car if the tank is under half full, and return the car before your booked time runs out so the next person with a booking can use it. The fuel, insurance, repairs, everything is paid for collectively, so your monthly bill represents the total cost of using the car for the time that you book it and the distance you drive it. People who don’t drive more than about 12,000km/year, can save thousands of dollars a year by sharing a car instead of owning one for private use.

Regina has had a car share, Regina Car Share Co-op, since 2009, and is still one of the smaller ones in Canada, with only 1 shared car. There are more than 30 drivers who use that one car, however. This isn’t even as efficient as it can get, since the American average is toward 50 members per shared car. This is why one shared car is estimated to replace between 8-13 parked cars. Imagine how big a parking space you need for a dozen cars, now re-assign that space for some other purpose. Do those possibilities excite you? If not, you’re probably not an urban planning geek.

Transit – I’ve lived in several cities across Saskatchewan and also in Ottawa. I’ve used buses to travel to most provinces and 2 dozen states. Regina does not have the most inconvenient transit system I’ve used, but it’s close. It doesn’t surprise people when they typically see buses that are nearly empty at random times in the day. There are several reasons for this, but one of the reasons is urban sprawl. Regina has subdivisions that virtually empty out during the daytime, and fill back up in the evening as tens of thousands of people commute downtown. Without having a neighbourhood designed to meet mixed purposes of residential housing, commercial business, and recreation opportunities, transit cannot be cheaply provided. Or rather it can be cheap, but not also convenient.

Bus stop times in Regina tend to be spaced in intervals of half hours, and on Sundays and times after 9pm, intervals of an hour. I don’t know about you, but if I was told that I could only get into my car on the hour, I’d find it pretty inconvenient. You’d have to plan whether to be very early, or very late when arriving at your scheduled destination. With that kind of restriction on car use, you’d see people seeking another way to get around on their own terms. This is why many people don’t consider using the bus, and instead opt for purchasing a car which costs them on average $8000/year to own and completely maintain.

Regina has chosen to make Transit cheap, over convenient. We’re getting what we pay for; we’re steering people toward automobile purchase.

How do we get to a different transportation system? What will change so we can accommodate people who don’t feel comfortable with the “car is king” style of city? We have to make some decisions based upon where we expect people like us to live, and where we will work and play.

If we were to spend more of our money on buying buses, opposed to subsidizing parking to keep it artificially cheaper than its real-estate value, we’d see increased transit ridership. More buses mean more frequent stop times. It also means more direct, intuitive routes where someone can predict where they will end up by getting onto a bus, without the need for a pocket computer with a snazzy app.

Parkades can cost $33,000 per stall if built at the UofR. Parking in Los Angeles two years ago was valued at $31,000 a stall. Parking spots are more valuable than cars, but often we give away parking, especially in sprawl zones populated mostly by big box stores with no sidewalks or bike lanes to residential housing not very far away.

These sort of city design issues are central to how the transportation situation shakes out for a given city. That’s one big reason I got involved in the last civic election, and why I’m still actively involved in bringing ideas to City Council about how we can make progress in how people can get around in fun and healthier modes. I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people actively involved with Bike Regina these past few months; the car share co-op is picking up new members even with our static number of vehicles and still manage to keep members happy with availability, and the Transit system is promising some route improvements for Sunday and other times this Summer.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s possible to make big changes by simply letting City Hall know you’d like a little action to make your walk/run/bike/ or car pooling experience a little easier. If you’re thinking something isn’t right with Regina’s roads, don’t stay silent, let your City Councillor, or Service Regina know. If it’s something really big, write your MLA and MP too. When politicians see that letters and phone calls are coming in about an issue, there’s a much better chance they’ll take steps to fix a shortcoming, than if you remain silent. If you’ve been feeling left out of how your city works, be Idle No More, and idle your car no more too ;-). There are friendly groups looking for your support, and you can have a lot of fun in the journey. It’s not just where you’re going, it’s also how you get there that counts.

Once again, for those who wandered in late, I’m John Klein, and those were some of my comments on the state of Regina transportation.

Other subjects?
– Self-driving cars
– Combined payment RFID cards for easing multi-modal transportation
– Uber cabs
– Peer to Peer car sharing
– Bike sharing
– Car pooling

One question was about bus stop advertising, and how it blocks the drivers from seeing if someone is in the shelter, and blocks riders waiting in the shelter from seeing an oncoming bus. One solution I suggested was to have slots in the ads for people to see in and out from.

Another was what we could do about improving a downtown bus station or transfer point. One idea would be to close part of 11th Ave. to motor vehicle traffic, or create a pedestrian underpass with connected shelters that extend almost up to the street. This idea may be harder to implement with 12th Avenue already obstructed for through-traffic.

Interesting links:
BikeRegina.ca
ReginaCarShare.ca
TransitLive.ca
Taken For A Ride: documentary describing the downfall of public transportation in North America in the mid 20th century.
Boulder, CO Hop Skip Jump buses: how they transferred busing from a social service, to a more inclusive city feature.