February 4, 2016

Motordom in Action: Edmonton Development and Roads

An interesting little item in yesterday’s Edmonton Journal about developer contributions for new infrastructure:

Road building rules around new Edmonton developments are about to get a revamp — but just how the jobs get funded may prove to be a speed bump.


work on the Anthony Henday around Edmonton

The city’s transportation committee received a report Wednesday outlining options to change the way highway penetrators — large roadways that serve as feeder routes into the city — are dealt with when subdivisions are built around them.

“Typically, subdivisions are built and land is dedicated for roads to carry that traffic through a four-lane road,” said transportation manager Dorian Wandzura. “In our agreement with the province around provincial highways that come farther into the city limits, they’ve asked for a bigger carrying capacity because they’re an extension of a provincial highway.
The report includes five roadways considered penetrators on the west and south parts of the city — Stony Plain Road, Whitemud Drive, 23rd Avenue, Terwillegar Drive and 50th Street. It recommends standardizing the system so developers are limited to dedicating land for six lanes of penetrators but also requiring developers to construct four of them.


Whitemud Drive


Basically, the deeper a developer builds into the City of Edmonton, the more road capacity they are responsible for providing. Seems a fine way to incentivize greater development and sprawl outside the city limits and car-dependency inside it. Not surprisingly, some developers are opposed.

“Users can’t also pay for that because others are benefiting as well,” said Brad Armstrong, vice president of community development with Qualico Communities, a company that has a number of properties in various phases of development in the city.
Russell Dauk, who spoke on behalf of the Rohit Group, said developers are happy to share the cost of road building in areas where they are building homes. But since a six-lane road likely serves more people than just those moving into the homes, the cost should be spread to others in the region.
“Coun. Scott McKeen reminded that, for the city, that leaves one option. The only other option we have would be the general taxpayer,” said McKeen.
“Coun. Michael Oshry, who chairs the committee, also brought up the fact that developers should be working those costs into their business models, but agreed they have a valid argument if the cost is simply going to be shifted to home buyers. The committee agreed to let administration come up with amendments to the city’s arterial road policy and bring them to council.


This is a very clumsy formula that essentially mandates sprawl in one form or another. It’s telling that simply not building more road capacity is not an option at all.  

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  1. I am amused that city councillors are just figuring out that developers will be passing on increased infrastructure costs to homebuyers.

  2. I agree. What an anti-urban mess this is. It reminds of the way the City of Bellevue used LOS impacts in their (supposed) downtown to maintain road capacity. it had the net effect of not achieving compactness and walkability and actually pushed inner city development away from each other.

  3. Charging developers more for road use / construction costs makes total sense to me. It is a no-brainer. This is new news ?
    Edmonton is THE LEAST dense city over 1M people in North-America. The weather is miserable half the year. It has refineries close by and gasoline prices are always the lowest in the country. A car is an obvious choice, a necessity even, in Edmonton, unless you live downtown, the new Blatchford development on the former inner city airport site, or select areas close to the few LRT lines.
    Land costs are far lower than in other cities especially MetroVan. Different rules apply.
    Many people prefer a $350,000 house with a yard and two cars in the double garage to a 500 sq ft condo on the 28th floor. Most I’d say actually. Both my (now adult) children live in Edmonton, I have an MBA from there and we manage quite a few apartment buildings (see http://www.firesidepropertygroup.com ) there and I am there frequently. With the new ring road complete this summer traffic flow will improve. They even left room for 12 lanes from the airport into teh city. Bravo. Some excellent forward thinking based on experiences in Dallas and Houston, TX.
    Edmonton also has Uber – VERY popular and useful !
    Different weather, different gasoline prices, different land prices make different housing and urban design choices ! Not better or worse, just different !

    1. That great place has thousands of people from Edmonton and Alberta moving to Vancouver every year to escape the sprawled urban hellhole you described. If its so great Thomas why did you move to Vancouver?

      1. I never lived in Edmonton except to do my MBA in the late 80’s. I just invest there and spend a fair amount of time there. A great city for those that do not mind the cold weather. I do mind that. I also have the money now to buy a decent place in Vancouver. As you know, that is a real challenge here. As you know, too, the ocean view sucks in Alberta. Beaches aren’t the same in N-Alberta as here.
        Unless you have spent time in Edmonton you cannot comment on the “sprawling hell-hole” with any sincerity as it is an utterly FALSE description of many many lovely neighborhoods, with parks, clean air, wide roads, space and affordability, many connected to North-America’s LARGEST URBAN PARK, the river valley via countless ravines.
        You know, the same reason why folks escape the “hellhole’ of Vancouver and buy themselves a nice house in Surrey or Delta or Coquitlam or Langley: have some space. get a yard, have a house, walk about their neighborhood, sit in a park without traffic noise, police sirens, a condo board or bums pushing a cart.

    2. Post

      No. Whether people prefer the lower sticker price in Just-Add-Water Estates is immaterial to its inherent long-term damage and wastefulness. There’s no arguing otherwise just because motordom is common cultural practice and therefore morally untouchable.
      The point of the article, your knee-jerk defensiveness aside, is that Council is currently debating what ratio of fleecing the taxpayer will be responsible for as opposed to the homebuyer. Everybody loses here. New homebuyers are forced to subsidize sprawl, as are the rest of the city’s taxpayers who are spending a lot of money so new residents can be juuust a little less inconvenienced on the roads.
      It is worse and it is meshugenah.

      1. I tried to coin a term with my first post as Guest Editor … “Inconditopolis” … ‘Rule without a plan’ … shockingly, it didn’t catch on 😉
        Maybe we should combine the two, rule by a Meshugenah in an Inconditopolis … a crazy person leading a city without a plan.

    3. I think you’d change your song quicker than Christy flashes a grin, Thomas, if you and every driver paid for the public services you consume. Paying for every kilometre driven, emergency personnel scanning your credit card while you’re bleeding on the road, surcharges on every additional metre public utilities have to extend to serve fewer people at the sprawling periphery, that kinda thing.

      1. Sign me up. Far too much is offered for “free” today. Free is only to the recipient. Someone else ALWAYS always has to pay for it.
        Paying for every km driven: awesome. That is real green actually. Even the Tesla guy, using the subsidized road today, would pay. Folks on bikes, too ?
        But hey, we are so wealthy, what’s another billion or 10, or 20 borrowed ? $50B now is the projected 2 year deficit on the federal level alone. (See here for example: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/liberals-tout-debt-to-gdp-ratio-as-a-fiscal-anchor-as-deficit-predictions-balloon) Add provinces and cities and a real nightmare is brewing. Also see: Greece or Detroit !
        Hey, vote for me. Free party. Let the next guy worry about paying for it. btw: only 40% (!!!) voted for that. NOT a majority !

        1. I think you’ll find that bikes should GET paid, if you include the health benefits of cycling, most studies suggest it makes the world cheaper (less health costs, etc).
          (the UK has done just this in fact (in 2010 I think), you can get a tax break for commuting by bike)
          On behalf of every cyclist, we will all happily submit our Strava logs … $10cents per kilometer would be an excellent incentive, and probably save 10:1 for health costs long term. I know plenty who might even pay their food costs on this one, sign me up! Win:Win!
          We have so far to go before WRT Debt/GDP Greece or Detroit becomes relevant that I’m going to call Krugman’s Law on you Thomas … the first person who compares an economy that isn’t Greece to that of Greece automatically loses.
          Guess what IS the same debt:income ratio as greece (actually, its far worse than that)? The average person who bought “themselves a nice house in Surrey or Delta or Coquitlam or Langley” [or anywhere else in the lower mainland]. If you want to say ‘the Greece is falling’, please use the metaphor for the right thing.

        2. Are you serious Thomas? The same Liberals you are bashing just shelled out $700 million to bail out your beloved Alberta. You know the place, that province that put all its eggs inone basket, paid no PST, lived high off the hog while the conservatives stole from The Heritage Fund which is now squandered. And we now have to bail these losers out? Maybe they can sell all the lakefront property they bought in the Kootenays, Okanagan, Shuswap along with their giant dually trucks and jetskis. Makes me sick. Live fast die fast, OWN YOUR OWN SHIT ALBERTA. Thomas how you can blame Trudeau for Harper and Prentices one trick pony economy is laughable,

  4. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/The_Peace_Bridge_in_Calgary_an_HDR_photo.jpg
    This is the Peace Bridge in Calgary. It was designed by Spanish-Swiss architect Santiago Calatrava. It is very unique in that the load-bearing engineering and the architectural form are one, and that alone gives it a lightweight elegance. Not a cable stay, column or clunky girder in sight. I have been on this bridge and its refined elegance extends to the inside where you are protected, your way is lit, you are separated from bike or pedestrian movement, and you can enjoy very fine craftsmanship up close. It has become a major tourist draw, as are some other Calatrava works around the world. It also draws more commuting and recreational bikes and pedestrians than any other pedestrian bridge in town. Moreover, it connects to beautiful parkland and to downtown. It survived the Great Flood of 2013 where the river below cascaded horizontally against the abutments.
    This bridge has forced Calgarians to face the appalling mediocrity and blandness of great swaths of their city. It also became one of the most intense lightning rods for criticism, mostly by conservative journos who care only about very simplistic ideas of cost, or more accurately, cheapness, but then go off to Paris on vacation. Despite the tabloid media tempest, council still approved it. At $25 million it was more expensive than a cheaper precast concrete version would have been, but now after several years of heavy use I suggest the cost per user is arguably lower than any other pedestrian bridges over the Bow River. And it’s amazing that such a small piece of architecture could do so much to elevate the urbanism of that town and the discourse around it.
    One small local paper wrote an insightful op-ed in support of the bridge, first on its superior design compared to everything else around it, and then on comparing it to the unimaginably massive road infrastructure being constructed at the same time, including a ring road and several unneeded freeways all amounting to the near side of $10 billion for a city of one million. Pedestrian-scale infrastructure is now on the agenda.
    It was like comparing a grain of sand to Grouse Mountain, yet the media focused on the grain and portrayed it as wasteful. Well, cities like Calgary and Edmonton need all the help they can get and this bridge is a lot cheaper than a ring road or an arena, but most media seem to be tone deaf and ignorant. Dan is right, Motordom is (still!) +morally untouchable. The thing is, that set of morals has been discredited, is unaffordable and in some ways reprehensible in a modern civilized economy.

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