How will Terrace’s transportation network adapt to a growing population?
Terrace has maintained a relatively stable population of around 13,000 for several years. According to the City, economic growth in the form of mines, energy transmission and a proposed inland port could very well bring an influx of newcomers. Should those projects be realized, Terrace’s population could grow to around 20,000 by 2030.
But how will Terrace’s intersections, paths, bridges and transit system cope with a busier city? That question has been on the mind of the municipal government. In 2017, the city released its Transportation Master Plan, a road map for the future of transportation in Terrace.
For commuters today, the most popular mode of transportation in Terrace is the single passenger vehicle, most commonly a car or truck. According to Statistics Canada, three out of every four Terracites drive. Adding passengers to the equation means that 85 per cent of people in Terrace either drive, or are passengers in cars as their primary mode of transportation.
Much of Terrace’s road network was built in the 1950s and 60s. Standard roads at the time were larger than today, meaning that several roads in the city are overbuilt. With roads like Kalum St. and Lakelse Ave. wider than they needed to be, the City was able to add middle turning lanes.
City of Terrace Public Works Director Rob Schibli said that the city’s roads are generally well equipped to handle future growth.
“I think that most of our collectors and arterials, our major routes have the capacity for additional traffic,” he said.
“We do see that there may be enhancements required on the major thoroughfares through town and heavy truck traffic areas through town, and also the major routes that go up the hill [to the Bench] may also need enhancements with increased volume.”
But in recent years there has been a slow shift away from single passenger vehicles as the default method of transportation in cities as the environmental impact is more widely known. That is leading municipalities to consider other options like public and active transportation.
There is a stark difference between the amount of people that use cars and trucks, versus users of public transit. In 2006, only one per cent of people in Terrace used public transit as their primary mode of transportation.
But according to Lindsay Taylor, manager of government relations for BC Transit’s northern transit systems, ridership in Terrace was trending upward before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Over the last five years we’ve seen a 50 per cent increase in ridership on the conventional routes so that’s really positive and really exciting for us, so we’re seeing almost 200,000 rides per year on transit in Terrace right now so that’s an increase of about 65,000 rides a year,” she said.
The BC Transit system in the Terrace area is paid for by the City, the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, BC Transit, and the Kitsumkalum and Kitselas First Nations. There are five bus routes in Terrace itself, serviced by four medium duty buses and two light duty vehicles.
Terrace city council makes decisions on routes, fares and service levels. BC Transit contracts out the operating services and is responsible for the fleet, advertising and purchasing bulk fuel. The pandemic disrupted BC Transit’s Terrace Transit Future Service Plan, which is set to paint a clearer picture about the future of transit in Terrace by identifying trends and priorities for the coming years. The second phase of engagement is planned for this fall.
“Now that we have a new transportation landscape with the new COVID scene, what are the new transportation travel patterns, how can we best meet the future of transit for Terrace and how can we get ridership back up to where we were pre-COVID, if that’s even possible,” Taylor said.
She said that there are enhancements coming to BC Transit in the future that will make busing in Terrace more convenient and appeal to more people. Over the next few years BC Transit is implementing the second phase of its NextRide program — buses will be fitted with GPS so customers can see where they are in real time on their mobile device or computer. Advanced fare collection is also on the horizon, meaning that customers would be able to tap a credit or debit card to pay for transit.
“Those kind of customer service tools and enhancements will really help and go a long way in creating customer trust and supporting customers in being able to access transit,” Taylor added.
Public transit will have an important role to play in the coming years because it serves as a complement to active transportation like cycling and walking, allowing people to combine modes of transportation over longer trips.
“Not everybody has the ability to travel very far by bike or by walking so being able to take transit and add that distance to your trip as well, it allows community members to extend their travel zones,” said Taylor.
Active transportation refers to methods of getting around that are human-powered like walking, cycling, skateboarding, roller blading and others. Those methods are beneficial for residents’ health and the environment, but there are some issues that will need to be overcome in the future for active transportation to gain a strong foothold.
“Terrace is fairly broken up particularly by the rail in the middle of the community so we have some constraints there,” said Tara Irwin, city planner.
“The other challenge is of course that we are separated by a bench, so transportation on and off the Bench is a definite barrier to active transportation.”
Sande Overpass is the main vehicle and pedestrian route crossing the Canadian National Railway tracks which split the city in half. It is one of a few crossings, and has been flagged by the city as an imperfect solution to the problem.
“A second overpass and especially the pedestrian component of a second overpass has been a priority of council going back through my entire 20-year career here at the City,” said Schibli.
“It’s expensive, it’s challenging and it involves input from the CN Rail Corporation and the province as well to accomplish a project like that.”
As part of the Master Transportation Plan the City commissioned a survey about transportation in Terrace. High priorities for respondents were improving cycling and walkability, with the number one concern being safety. In 2009, Terrace RCMP noted that Terrace saw high rates of police-reported vehicle incidents causing injury to pedestrians and cyclists.
“Our research shows that people want to cycle but they don’t cycle because they are afraid, and that’s especially true for women and also for parents with children,” said Kay Teschke, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia’s school of population and public health.
Teschke said that the safest kind of bike infrastructure is a physically separated bike line on major streets, which would encourage more cyclists than the current three per cent of Terracites to bike to work.
“What’s really good about that kind of infrastructure is that it’s about ten times safer than on a major street without any bike infrastructure where you are riding between parked cars and moving cars, and it’s almost the same times safer than a painted bike lane,” she said.
On Kalum St., there are parked cars beside the sidewalk, a bike lane, and then the road. Teschke said that switching the location of the bike lane and the parked cars is safer because there is a smaller chance of a cyclist hitting an open car door or having to swerve into traffic to avoid open doors.
Raised crosswalks and protected intersections are also measures that cities in Europe and to lesser extent B.C. use to minimize risks to cyclists.
The City created an Active Transportation Plan in 2009, which included several goals like lessening greenhouse gasses and reliance on cars, better connection to Kitsumkalum, Kitselas and Thornhill, improving the physical health of residents, reducing conflicts between cyclists, pedestrians and drivers, and making active transportation appealing for all people in all seasons.
The plan outlined that 10 per cent of roads in Terrace have a bicycle route, which includes routes with no marked bike lane. One aspect of the plan is introducing education programs to inform cyclists and motorists how to ‘share the road.’
“The research shows pretty consistently that education is not a very effective tool, that’s one of the techniques we try to do in North America and our traffic safety record is not great, so the best tools are good design,” Teschke said.
The dominance of cars in Terrace is illustrated by Walk Score, a private company that created a public walkability index. It rated Terrace as having a walkability score of 25, meaning it is a car dependent city. Prince Rupert and Smithers both scored higher on the index, which measures walkability by distance of various amenities to residential areas.
Nonetheless, Terrace’s relatively small footprint means that it is possible to walk from Kalum St. to Kitsumkalum (4.8 km) in one hour, and Halliwell to Graham Ave. (4 km) in 48 minutes, with shorter cycling times.
“You have a city that would be just fantastic for cycling, those are distances that are terrific to cycle,” Teschke said.
“The city with the most work trips by bike at the moment in B.C. is Revelstoke which is also a small city similar in population to Terrace and they have about 15 per cent of work trips by bike, and have a great setting like you guys with the river and the mountains all around and I encourage competition.”