Complete Streets is gaining traction in Toronto! In August 2014, Toronto City Council amended its Official Plan to include Complete Streets principles. And on October 7, 2014 over 400 city and agency staff gathered together for a landmark staff symposium to launch the process of developing Toronto’s Complete Streets Guidelines, as directed by Council in 2013, and to build a cohesive approach to the project.
The staff symposium took place on the day following TCAT’s Complete Streets Forum in the same location at Daniels Spectrum. Dr. Jeannette Montufar, an award-winning Canadian engineer described as revolutionizing the field of transportation engineering, was a keynote speaker for both the TCAT and the City of Toronto event.
We spoke with Adam Popper, Complete Streets Project Manager, Public Realm Section, Transportation Services, City of Toronto, about the symposium and the initiative so far.
Adam emphasized the importance of responding to Toronto’s unique challenges and opportunities in developing the guidelines. History, geography, politics, for example, will greatly influence the project. “Building common understanding and sharing perspectives from the outset of the Guidelines project is important to its development and uptake”, Adam says.
Adam also spoke of the excitement in working on this project “I am most excited about having approved guidance on how to allocate space on streets, for their highest and best use. With all the different public interests and limited space, this has been one of the most challenging aspects of street design in Toronto.”
TCAT shares this excitement, and looks forward to the next steps in the project. Read the full interview below.
TCAT Interview with Adam Popper, Complete Streets Project Manager, Public Realm Section, Transportation Services, City of Toronto
Q1. At TCAT’s Complete Street Forum on Oct 6th we learned of the consultant team selected to develop Complete Streets Guidelines for the City of Toronto and on Oct 7th over 400 city staff gathered for a staff symposium. Can you tell us the purpose and goals of the staff symposium?
The purpose of the City’s Complete Streets Staff Symposium was to introduce City and agency staff to the Guidelines initiative, as well as the newly hired consultants, and to build a common understanding of the initiative — how far we’ve come in building great streets, and where we’re going.
Q2. Why was the symposium a staff-only event?
There are many City and Provincial administrative interests on Toronto’s streets. We want to make sure staff are fully aware of the project and how it might impact their areas of work. We have a robust plan for public and stakeholder outreach, and we’re excited to roll that out as various elements of the Guidelines come to light. The City also consulted with dozens of stakeholders in setting up the project, so this isn’t new, but for many staff it is.
Q3. What can you tell TCAT News readers about the format of the event, and any highlights?
We had introductory speeches from the Chief Planner and the General Manager of Transportation Services, as well as guest speaker, Dr. Jeannette Montufar. All three set the tone, addressing why Complete Streets is a worthwhile endeavour. We also heard from the newly hired consultants, had table conversations and heard from a panel of other senior City officials. The second portion was delving into how it might be done. The whole event was wrapped up before lunch, but in a few short hours it injected some energy and plenty of understanding among divisional representatives.
Q4. How would you describe the momentum towards Complete Streets amongst your colleagues? What part of the Complete Streets Guidelines project are you most excited about?
I am most excited about having approved guidance on how to allocate space on streets, for their highest and best use. With all the different public interests and limited space, this has been one of the most challenging aspects of street design in Toronto. A lot of my colleagues share this excitement, though many others are just learning what Complete Streets is all about.
Q5. Toronto is not the first jurisdiction to develop such guidelines. Which cities, projects, and policies elsewhere have provided you with inspiration or best practices that you’d like to see in Toronto?
Every city is a little different. History, geography, climate, politics and existing policies (just to name a few) all contribute. It’s easy enough to like what Boston has done on their Guidelines, or how NYC is changing its streets to add more public space. Toronto’s Guidelines need to respond to our unique challenges and opportunities. Toronto recently joined the National Association of Transportation Officials (NACTO), and its Urban Streets Design Guide lays a strong foundation for the work we’re doing.
Q6. We know that our streets serve many functions to many users. What is the importance of collaborating with other city divisions and agencies at this stage? What are the challenges (and opportunities) with such extensive collaboration on this type of document?
There are over 30 City and provincial divisions and agencies responsible for, or interested in, streets. To truly approach designing street for all users and uses, we have to have a full understanding of all the variety of divisional and agency interests including transportation, city planning, public health, engineering and construction, water, economic development, TTC, and the list goes on. It’s safe to say, these interests don’t always line-up perfectly, even though we all share similar goals. Building common understanding and sharing perspectives from the outset of the Guidelines project is important to its development and uptake.