City design specialist proposes new priorities

Urban planning advisor weighs in on local transit, bike routes and school locations

Last week, Toronto-based urban design expert Gil Penalosa shared his ideas for making Kamloops more sustainable with both city staff and the general public. Among other things, Penalosa wants to see Kamloops develop more cycling routes, improve its public transit system and bring residential area speed limits down to 30 kilometers to make the city more pedestrian friendly.

Penalosa’s main criticism of Kamloops was that there are too many cars on the road. Locals are relying on their personal vehicles to get from place to place 85 per cent of the time, he said.

“In Kamloops, not all trips can be done [without a vehicle], but it’s about having options,” he said, acknowledging that the city’s hilly terrain could deter people from wanting to walk or bike everywhere.

Gil Penalosa delivered a keynote presentation on Feb. 4 as part of his participation at the Community Innovation Lab. (Ryan Turcot/The Omega)

Gil Penalosa delivered a keynote presentation on Feb. 4 as part of his participation at the Community Innovation Lab.
(Ryan Turcot/The Omega)

Last Wednesday, Penalosa explained to a full house at the CommUnity Innovation Lab why he thinks Kamloops should be driving less. He made the economic argument that two-car households spend between 25 and 30 per cent of their annual incomes on mobility, and that this expense would decrease if people had better alternatives to driving. He also believes that better pedestrian infrastructure is necessary to accommodate children and seniors in the community, and emphasized the need to prepare for a spike in Canada’s aging population. According to Statistics Canada, seniors make up 15 per cent of the Canadian population now, but this number could rise up to 25 per cent by 2063.

It would not be practical for people to stop driving unless they could reach key locations (like schools and grocery stores) within 15 minutes using alternative modes of transportation like walking, cycling or public transit, Penalosa said.

Speaking specifically to the public transit system in Kamloops, Penalosa asserted (to a roaring applause from the crowd) that the system would be more intuitive if “the decision makers” had to use the bus service for a week once every year.

“It’s hard to have real base knowledge of something without experiencing it, in my point of view, so I think that’s a great idea,” councillor Donovan Cavers said. “I take the bus all the time. I always encourage other councilors to take the bus, and I know a few who do.”

According to Cavers, many of Penalosa’s suggestions were already on the city’s radar, but “it’s the rate at which they’ve been implementing them that could be quicker.”

“One of the quotes [Penalosa] had that I thought was really interesting is based on the argument that … you don’t look at where to build a bridge based on where people are swimming across the river, so we can’t expect to see a lot of people cycling around the city if we don’t have the infrastructure for them,” Cavers said.

Penalosa also spoke to the importance of having a public school in the downtown core – a touchy subject in the wake of Stewart Wood Elementary’s upcoming closure. To Penalosa, having a school in the downtown core simply makes sense – it is one of the key resources that people would want access to within 15 minutes – but TRU political scientist Derek Cook said things are not quite that simple.

“In the particular case of the downtown school, Stuart Wood, that was an election issue. But, the school board felt constrained by budget priorities they were given by the province. They were sort of boxed in — it was one school or the other,” Cook said.

In addition to a public school, Penalosa wants to see TRU develop a presence in the downtown core.

“We have to have a department of the university right in the heart of the main street,” he said.

According to Cook, “if we’re going to teach courses downtown, we could rent space, sure, but we would need more faculty.”

Penalosa concluded his keynote presentation with a call-to-action for his audience: get more involved with local politics.

“When I became Canadian, I loved everything about Canada except one of the myths that you have to be politically correct,” he said. “That’s ridiculous. You have to be respectful, but ‘politically correct’ is not saying what’s on our mind.”

In reference to the Stuart Wood closure, he said, “we have to go to the Board of Education and fight. The councilors and the mayor, they have to fight.”

“That’s the big thing,” Cook said. “Does our city council have a political will to improve things?”

“This guy [Penalosa] was great at making arguments on what makes sense, and showing the huge difference when you do make things more palatable for pedestrians and cyclists … but it’s a matter of follow-up now.”