Complete Streets Gap Analysis: Opportunities and Barriers in Ontario

With funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, TCAT produced a research report titled Complete Streets Gap Analysis: Opportunities and Barriers in Ontario (revised August 2013), that provides an analysis of the potential for Complete Streets in 17 of Ontario’s largest municipalities.

Executive Summary
Why Complete Streets, Why now?
Popularity for Complete Streets is growing in Canada inspired by the success of the movement in the United States where over 315 policies have been adopted by various jurisdictions as of February 2012. In Ontario, over 40% of the 17 municipalities included in this gap analysis already mention the term Complete Streets in at least one of their official planning documents. Interest is growing rapidly across the country as well.

Winnipeg’s 2011 Transportation Master Plan recommends that the City draft and adopt an Official Complete Streets policy (City of Winnipeg, 2011); Moncton, NB recently identified Complete Streets as a priority for the development of their new Municipal Plan (Cormier, 2011); Edmonton has launched an online discussion on how the City can achieve Complete Streets (City of Edmonton, 2012); Toronto Public Health recently reported that the City’s Official Plan includes a Complete Streets policy (Perrotta et al., 2012); and the Regional Municipality of Niagara is currently conducting a gap analysis to discover how existing provincial and regional policy can support the adoption of Complete Streets in the Region’s 12 municipalities (Craig Rohe, Personal Communication, April 12, 2012).

Conferences and workshops supporting the adoption of Complete Streets policies are also growing in popularity. The 2012 Complete Streets Forum hosted by TCAT sold out nearly a month in advance (TCAT, 2012); the City of Hamilton hosted a Transportation Summit exploring the value of Complete Streets on April 5, 2012 (Clean Air Hamilton, 2012); and the Ontario Traffic Council held a Transportation Planning Workshop in Oakville on April 20, 2012 exploring, in part, Complete Streets on provincial roads (Ontario Traffic Council, 2012). The Province of Ontario is beginning to take note: the newest version of the Transit-Supportive Guidelines, released by the Ministry of Transportation, contains a section dedicated to Complete Streets with recommended ‘best practice’ strategies for adoption at the local level (Ministry of Transportation, 2012).

And with good reason: the adoption of a Complete Streets policy requires planners and engineers to design roadways to be safe and comfortable for users of all ages and abilities, including pedestrians, cyclists and transit users.

Research Findings
This research represents the first known in Canada highlighting the opportunities and barriers for the adoption of Complete Streets policies. More specifically, the transportation section of the Official Plan (OP) for 17 of Ontario’s largest municipalities was analysed using the ten elements of a comprehensive Complete Streets policy developed by the National Complete Streets Coalition.

Of the OPs reviewed, eight of the ten elements were found in the majority of policies. The two elements that were missing most often were 1) the use of strong, direct language (i.e., ‘must’ or ‘will’) for implementing cycling, pedestrian, and transit networks and 2) a clear process for defining and granting any exceptions to accommodating all road users.

To supplement the OP analysis, an implementation survey was sent to planners, engineers, and advocates in the same 17 municipalities to discover what opportunities and barriers exist for adopting and implementing Complete Streets. While over 80 percent of the municipalities support the adoption of a Complete Streets policy there are gaps preventing adoption and implementation. The three most significant barriers were 1) gaining support from a diverse set of stakeholders, 2) departmental training, and 3) financing. Furthermore, political support was identified as a key factor in pushing forward a Complete Streets policy. The most important documents identified to do so include the Official Plan, the Transportation Master Plan, and Urban Design Guidelines.

What Does It All Mean?
The results of this research show that many of the ten elements of a comprehensive Complete Streets policy already exist in the Official Plans of 17 of Ontario’s largest municipalities. However, there is growing support for the strengthening of these Complete Streets policy elements to further structure and enhance both existing and new transportation policies and to facilitate implementation of streets that are safer and welcoming for all. Specifically, stronger policy language can strengthen opportunities for implementation by removing policy ambiguity through words such as “must”, “shall”, and “will”, as opposed to “will consider”, “wherever feasible”, or “if possible”,  when referring to the pedestrian, cycling, or transit network. If exceptions are necessary then they should be clearly articulated and have a defined approval process.

While 76% of municipalities cited some form of implementation plan in the transportation section of the OP the fact remains that achieving the implementation plan is the ticket to change. Practitioners will need tools with teeth, including training for city staff and design standards for implementation for every type of right-of-way, to take Complete Streets from policy to actual implementation.

Fortunately, Canadian municipalities are recognizing that successfully building Complete Streets requires going above and beyond policy. Calgary is in the middle of a three-year process to create Complete Streets Guidelines that will give practitioners concrete guidance on how the City’s Complete Streets policy, adopted into both Calgary’s Transportation Plan and Municipal Development Plan in 2009, will be implemented on every right-of-way throughout the City (City of Calgary, 2011). Edmonton has started a similar process (City of Edmonton, 2012).

With the gears well in motion, the future looks bright for Complete Streets in Ontario and across Canada.

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Complete_Streets_Gap_Analysis_Rev_Aug2013.pdf1.99 MB