City aims to cut traffic congestion

Whitehorse wants you to drive less. Last week the city adopted its 25-year Transportation Demand Management Plan.

Whitehorse wants you to drive less.

Last week the city adopted its 25-year Transportation Demand Management Plan, which seeks to get 50 per cent of Whitehorse citizens commuting via anything but cars within the next quarter century.

Right now, three-quarters of people in the city drive to work alone in private cars, according to Shannon Clohosey, the city’s sustainability manager.

“(This plan) is basically providing a tool-kit or policy system to encourage a shift in behaviour from single-occupant vehicles to other modes of transportation,” Clohosey said.

The concept is nothing new for the city. It’s the same logic behind expanding bike paths and adding bike lanes to major thoroughfares, Clohosey said.

“We were looking for a plan to help us decide what’s next. Now that we’ve made some investments in infrastructure, how do we insure that that infrastructure is being used the best way it can,” she said.

Right now, there are almost twice as many cars in Whitehorse as there are people: roughly 54,000 vehicles versus 28,000 people. That figure, tallied by a consultant who worked on the report, comes from casting a wide net that includes everything from city buses to work vehicles to trailers.

According to the city’s research, the population of Whitehorse is expected to grow by 15,000 people in the next 25 years, adding an estimated 36,000 more vehicles to the city’s roads.

If we keep driving as much as we currently are, it will cost taxpayers an expected $40 million just to pay for all the new parking spaces required. The cost to build wider roads and fix up the existing ones will be enormous, Clohosey said.

The plan will be phased in over a number of years, Clohosey said. In the short term, the city will look to create a traffic demand manager’s position. That person will be charged with charting the path forward, and monitoring the implementation of parts of the plan.

Transportation issues in the city have always been controversial. After the city adopted its new traffic demand plan, online forums exploded with irate drivers upset that they might have to give up their time behind the wheel.

Whitehorse citizens also famously love to complain about traffic management. Roundabouts are one particular sore spot, as are the frequent traffic jams in Riverdale during the morning rush. Often, the frustration is directed at the city, with people demanding that someone else solve the problem.

But as Whitehorse’s engineering manager Wayne Tuck points out, the vast majority of the vehicles coming out of Riverdale contain one, maybe two people; parents dropping their kids off for school before heading to work themselves, alone in their cars.

“Those kids could be walking to school, and those drivers could be taking the bus. That would clear up a lot of the issues,” Tuck said.

The first place the city wants to focus is on improving its transportation maintenance program, which includes doing a better job of things like clearing snow from sidewalks and bike paths, and increasing education around transportation alternatives, Clohosey explained.

What the city’s not going to do is tell people they have to stop driving.

“We’re not asking everyone to suddenly sell their car and bike to work. Even if people want to ride one day a week, or take the bus one day a week, that would be great,” Clohosey said.

Paris, France made waves in the news recently with the announcement that the city would ban vehicles with odd-numbered license plates for one day, and ban even-numbered cars the next, in a bid to reduce cars on the road and pollution in the air.

Clohosey said that kind of unorthodox thinking is interesting, but the city isn’t anywhere close to forcing people to leave their cars at home.

“We definitely welcome out-of-the-box thinking, but let’s be proactive and work on this while we have a lot of time and some flexibility so it doesn’t get to that point,” she said.

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