Mobility: Lisa Helps

Who has a right to the city?

Mayor Lisa Helps spoke at The Walrus Talks Mobility, which took place at the Future Cities Summit on November 8 in Toronto.

You can watch all The Walrus Talks speakers from this event here: The Walrus Talks Mobility on YouTube

Great. Good afternoon everyone. I’m Lisa Helps and I am the mayor of Victoria. I want to begin by thanking Lindy and Dr. Redbird for such a thoughtful and warm welcome to these lands. I am from the city of Victoria, and whenever I travel I like to also remind people or let people know that the city of Victoria is built on the homelands of the Lekwungen speaking people, the Songhees and Esquimalt nations, and so I honor the thousands of years that they’ve spent taking care of those territories and continuing to welcoming those of us who are newer there was a lot of generosity.

I am going to be talking today very specifically about Victoria’s mobility future, and hopefully you’ll be able to take some lessons from that back to your own communities. Just today, later today, because we’re in a different time zone, we’re launching what we call Go Victoria, Our Mobility Future, and this is a couple of years in the making and it’s meant to look at Victoria’s transportation and mobility future for the next five and 20 years. As a way of beginning, we actually began by looking back.

This is Victoria downtown in the early 1900s, and just to give you a sense of how the street was used at that point in time, here’s a short video that will hopefully play. Just notice as it’s playing, all of the different uses of the street, all of the different people who are there, that you can see the kid running after the carriage. Oh, there he goes. He’s departing. Safe for kids to play in the streets back then. People crossing without traffic lights, and again, the very shared use of the street.

Now we often think that this disappeared quickly. It didn’t. This is downtown Victoria in the 1940s. You can see, again, that multi-user aspect of the street. There’s everybody, and it looks to me like everyone’s safe, particularly the people standing right there in the middle of the street.

This is that same intersection today. Doesn’t look at all like it has the same kind of life. How do we change that and what does the future look like? The fundamental question that we’re asking ourselves as we build that future is who has a right to the city? Does this little girl on the back of her dad’s trailer bike have as much right to the city as somebody driving an F-350 pickup truck? Our answer in Victoria is of course, but how do we build a city to make sure that that’s the case?

Go Victoria, Our Mobility Future is about a right to the city for all. It’s a citywide strategy to identify a high standard of mobility defined by safe, integrated, clean, seamless and attractive transportation networks. It’s a strategy, and I know you’re all working on this in your own cities, it’s a strategy that integrates modal systems to better define priorities, actions, and strategies to improve not only mobility, but also something that we’re all very interested in at this conference, also quality of life. I’ll talk a little bit more about the co-benefits of solving for mobility in just a moment.

In Victoria, rather than beginning with infrastructure, and I know lots of conversations about transportation and mobility begin with infrastructure. How many bike lanes do we need? Do we need wider sidewalks? What kinds of infrastructure do we need? We began our conversation, both with council and with the community, with values. What you see here is each of those little triangles represented a different value, and we asked our community to make a values quilt so we could see what are the key values that people have when it comes to moving around the city. This list here, and I won’t go through all of it, but these are some of the things that we heard from our community that were important to them.

We designed a strategy around the challenges, and again, I’m not going to point these out because we’re all aware of them, that’s why we’re at this conference, and we designed a strategy that would address those challenges with a multiplicity of benefits. Again, if we build a city that is inclusive of all, where all can move around, no matter how they’re moving, we don’t only have less congestion, going back to that slide earlier with all of the cars, we have better health and wellbeing. The Island Health is one of our key partners. They love our mobility future because it means that there’s going to be less people visiting the emergency room, there’s going to be less people visiting doctors.

Affordability is another key benefit. Fiscal responsibility. It’s much cheaper to move people by public transit than it is in a single occupancy vehicle. Obviously climate action and resiliency, economic opportunity, place-making and urban design, these are just some of the co-benefits when you design a city that everyone can move around in easily.

These are our six big moves. I’m just going to talk about the last three. Upping our game on reliable active transit, a new approach to managing our curbs and embracing Vision Zero, and again, this is real and live, and when you leave here you’ll be able to go and Google it and read the whole strategy for yourself. Active upping our strategy on active transportation. We’re building bike lanes, we’re making it easy for people to move, and most importantly, a decision we made just earlier this week, we are offering free transit to all kids 19 and under. We’re so excited about that. The youth asked us for that and so we are delivering. We’re subsidizing transit for all kids, and maybe we’ll move on to seniors who are also saying, “What about us?” We got to start somewhere.

In the city of Victoria we have more parking spots than we have adults. It’s a big problem, so one of our strategies is curb management. In other words, dealing with parking. You can see here that only a fraction of the spots we actually charge for. Again, with our mobility future, that is changing. People are going to freak out, but we know that if we get revenues from parking, we can redirect it to climate solutions and we can do a better job at curb management to make the city more accessible for everyone.

Finally, embracing Vision Zero. It’s not just about an idea, you need to build infrastructure for Vision Zero. You need to build infrastructure to keep everyone safe. I love this picture. It’s a juxtaposition of our new Johnson Street Bridge, the white one, with our old Johnson Street Bridge. We built them side by side so that people could have access to the bridge while the new one was being built. The important thing about this piece of infrastructure is that 50% of the bridge deck is for walking and cycling. 50%. That’s remarkable. Since this bridge opened a couple of years ago, we’ve seen tremendous mode shifts about the way people come into town.

We’re also building scramble crosswalks, so all the cars have to stop and all the people get to go. Again, it’s a simple infrastructure intervention, but it really does lead us very clearly and more closely to Vision Zero. Finally we’re building bike lanes, so people like this can be driven around safely by volunteers. This is called cycling without age. The tagline is the right to wind in your hair. The volunteers who drive these seniors around tell us that without the bike lanes that we’ve been building, they wouldn’t feel safe and the seniors wouldn’t feel safe. Go Victoria, Our Mobility Future is about a right to the city, who has a right to the city, and our firm belief is that every single person does. Thank you so much.

Lisa Helps