A consultants' plan to convince more Lethbridge residents to park the family car got a rough ride Monday at city council.
Their "high level" report, focusing on the city's transportation needs well into the future, recommended steps to increase use of transit, cycling and car-pooling to reduce the impacts of growth as the city approaches a population of 100,000 and later, 130,000 people. It also urged more immediate bus service improvements, allowing would-be passengers to get where they're going more easily.
But councillors, meeting as the city's community issues committee, found plenty to question in the consultants' recommendations. They delayed further debate on the report to regular city council meeting, after their report is rewritten.
The report's proposals for transit improvements would have seen costs double over the next decade, Coun. Faron Ellis warned. Yet consultants found only a tiny minority - less than two per cent of the city's residents - regularly use transit to get to work or classes.
"That's a lifestyle choice," Ellis said during a break in debate - and others shouldn't be asked to subsidize transit any more than they do now.
"We're always going to be an automobile-dependent community," he said. "It's not evil."
So the city's spending priorities should be on more roads, he said - not buses.
With about $9 million spent on transit operations today, he said, taxpayers could see that soar to $18 over the next decade if the report's recommendations were adopted. That's money better spent on roadway and intersection improvements, Ellis said.
The report, compiled by Associated Engineering under the direction of city administration, is expected to become the city's new transportation master plan once council has approved further amendments.
Doug Hawkins, the city's director of infrastructure services, told council this is the first time Lethbridge's planning, transportation and transit departments have worked together on a master plan. Previously, he said, the master plan concentrated on the city's arterial and collector roads - with little reference to pedestrians, cyclists or public transportation.
Deputy mayor Tom Wickersham, who chaired the meeting, praised the decision to present a more comprehensive look at the city's growth and mobility needs. City departments "are not working in a silo," he said.
Greater variations in population density were also suggested, and planner Maureen Gaehring told council many home buyers are already choosing smaller lots.
At the same time, she said, Lethbridge developers are moving toward a more conventional "grid" pattern of streets and avenues, allowing residents to get around more easily by bicycle or on foot, and permitting less circuitous transit routes.
Lethbridge residents no longer favour the "circulinear" development patterns of the 1970s and 1980s, Gaehring said.
While the city's annual population growth may average two per cent, transportation manager Darwin Juell said, figures show traffic continues increasing by about three per cent every year. Intersection and roadway improvements will be underway again this year, he told council, and he's recommending more for the city's next capital improvement plan.
He confirmed recent studies have shown University Drive and Whoop-Up Drive can be improved to meet growing traffic volumes on the city's westside. From a road capacity viewpoint, there is no need to spend about $150 million on a proposed "Chinook Trail" bridge across the river.