Thunder Bay’s Planning Problems

Last night at the 2017 Pre-budget consultation I had the opportunity to meet and talk to a number of different members of the City of Thunder Bay’s administration broken up into their respective divisions. One of these individuals I talked to was the planning department head Mark Smith. I felt that the conversation between myself and Mr. Smith was productive and felt that there was a lot of ideas from outside of the community that we have but are not being effectively implemented. The best way to summarize the building regulations and planning in Thunder Bay was ‘Loose’. I am going to try and paraphrase this conversation as best as I can without putting words in Mr. Smith’s mouth.

One of the items I brought up was intensification corridors; which are used by many other cities to increase the density of specific areas in their town to create rich, multi-use areas. Thunder Bay has some plans around intensification corridors but they are not well implemented and they run into significant challenges when it comes to actually implementing them. Thunder Bay has an perception issue with density and the ideas of smaller homes and apartment buildings. These types of developments are associated with lower income and criminality. There is also significant push back when a developer tried to bring multi-unit housing into an established area. Personally, I think that it time we challenge these assumptions and start to implement intensification corridors specifically around the areas of transit as a means to push transit use and bring density to the city.

One area I was impressed with is that Thunder Bay doesn’t really have any requirements for parking, height and other items in the downtown cores. They are pushing for development so desperately in these areas that they are willing to accommodate almost anyone. As we see more development in these areas it will be important to develop guidelines that bring in mutli-use land development practices.

The next question was about population density targets and its implementation within Thunder Bay. In reality, Thunder Bay has a very low density which is incredibly detrimental to its growth and success as a city. Stats Canada shows it around 330 people per square kilometre which is mentioned in my comparison blog between us and Barrie. Thunder Bay does not have density targets (to the best of my memory) which I believe is a direction that needs to change especially when it comes to additional developments in the city. Our urban sprawl is the biggest cause of city service costs and the biggest driver of tax increases. Looking to the Ontario plan for population density in Southern and Central Ontario I think its high time that we look to developing our own plan for modern, smart urban growth.

Finally, we talked about the idea of a development tax in Thunder Bay and the possibility of it being a factor in the city. Mr. Smith talked about a number of different potential revenue generators associated with the costs of developing in Thunder Bay that could change. As of now “We want people to put nails into boards and we make it very easy to build which is a significant difference then communities like Barrie who struggle on where to put things”. Thunder Bay’s practices on building and its continued allowance of urban sprawl is killing the city and will be the cause of service collapse. Frank Pullia in his explanation of the costs of the city said it himself “The size of the City of Thunder Bay is the same as the City of Montreal but we do not have the population they do”. Its time that the developers who come to our community pay to build here and for the infrastructure they leave behind for the city to pick up. If the demand is there people will pay to have their dream home.

Changes:

  • Introduce Intensification corridors to Thunder Bay in order to increase the density of the community and its self-supporting tax base. Looking to transit routes as potential areas for growth to help support the additional people. Attached is Barrie’s Intensification plan which is helping to support one of the fastest growing communities in Ontario http://www.barrie.ca/Doing%20Business/PlanningandDevelopment/Policies-Strategies/Pages/Intensification.aspx
  • Introduce a density target for the city. Require new developments to facilitate these density targets in order to help facilitate the future repair and maintenance of city services. Minister Mauro from Thunder Bay – Atikokan is the minister in charge of the Ontario Places to Grow Plan that introduces these targets we can use his expertise to do it here. https://www.placestogrow.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=420&Itemid=12
  • Introduce a modern development tax: A tax associated on distance from anchor points (Downtown) where the further from that point the more the tax is. Downtown development could potentially be given a rebate of 5% in order to facilitate development. Whereas a home in Neebing or McIntrye could see a 25% tax in order to pay for the future maintenance and rehabilitation costs. While Thunder Bay would be on a much smaller scale this is a potential major source of income “Toronto made about $150-million from development charges in 2012. (National Post)” http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/toronto-to-consider-almost-doubling-development-charges-levied-on-construction-projects

 

How can city’s road departments save money?

Roads are a vital part of our cities; they provide the networks for which we all get around and good are delivered. They have allowed us to travel from across continents and countries in a safe and effective means. Roads have become just as important for our cities as water and telecom and your more then likely to hear people complain about their poor condition if they are in such shape. They are expensive to maintain and cities have fallen behind on their repairs which costs motorists and humans alike. As municipalities and provinces struggle to keep up with the costs of repairing and keeping up with modern maintenance requirements we need to ask: How can cities road departments do more with less?

If we look at one of the streets in Thunder Bay; in this case a city block of Halton St. The street is 158 metres long by 9.75 metres wide with expanded areas by intersections that aren’t counted in this example. This gives it a total volume of 1,540.50 and if we convert it to square ft it equals 16,581.804. While its unknown what the City of Thunder Bay would pay for a square foot since they would purchase in bulk the cost for an average person ranges from $2 a square foot to $5. To get a nice mean number we will use $3.5 a square foot for the example. Using these two numbers, we get a cost beyond $58,000 top repave the road and we have not accounted for labour, cost of materials underneath the road, additional work like sidewalks, sewers and telecommunications. We can see that this type of work gets expensive and gets expensive very quickly for for taxpayers. This increasing cost is part of the reason why urban sprawl is so deadly to city budgets. What can a roads department do to reduce the costs of repaving roads and fixing up our infrastructure. One means could be reducing the size of the road or for marked roads the lanes that are on the space. A reduction of width from 9.75 metres (Halton) to 9.25 is a reduction of half a metre which would be negligible for drivers and users of the road. That reduction brings the size of the road down from 1,540.50 metres to 1,461.50 or minus 79 metres. The square foot measurements of that road is reduced from 16,581.804 to 15731.4551.  This reduction in size allows the city to save almost $3,000 in direct savings on asphalt. This $3,000 savings is a a 5% cost reduction on that portion of the costs alone which could provide the City of Thunder Bay millions if spread over the total cost of the city. The City spent $19 million dollars this year on roads rehabilitation; if we were to estimate that 10 million went to asphalt costs and used this 5% reduction by eliminating 0.50 metres. The city would save $500,000 annually that could be reused to pave additional road, add accessories like bike lanes or sidewalks or returned to the city coffers. A small reduction that would be the equivalent of a 0.5% tax increase to pay for other ways.

Another question we need to ask while proposing this idea is: is reducing the size of roads safe for the users. A recent report for the Department of Transportation (American) found that smaller roadways have the same or less accidents then wider roadways. The Texas Transportation institute found “On suburban arterial straight sections away from a traffic signal, higher speeds should be expected with greater lane widths.” So smaller roads mean we drive slower, we have less accidents and the severity of those accidents are less. Its also been reported that people tend to drive slower, pay more attention and use their cell phones less. This means safer drivers, less emergency services costs and lower insurance rates.

So the question of how can roads divisions save city’s money? The answer is where possible build smaller roads. Its cheaper, saves lives and allows residents in these smaller roads to do more things with the extra space such as bike lanes, additional green space, larger sidewalks etc.

References:

http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/10/why-12-foot-traffic-lanes-are-disastrous-for-safety-and-must-be-replaced-now/381117/