KAMLOOPS HAS a new traffic and transportation engineer. It’s a job that seems to have a lot of comings and goings, as you might say. Traffic, as in rush hour traffic. Transportation, as in cars, trucks, SUVs, buses, and transport trucks.
There is no doubt traffic and transportation are of high importance in Kamloops and elsewhere. In British Columbia, with a population of 5 million, there are 3.2 million insured vehicles.
In Kamloops, with a population of 90,000, there are about 58,000 vehicles. That’s almost 2 vehicles per private residence in the city. Or one vehicle for every person 16 years and older. Kamloops has a lot of vehicles, no matter how you count it.
The new traffic and transportation engineer has their work cut out for them keeping all those vehicles moving smoothly.
At the moment, with the COVID-19 lockdown, traffic is a breeze in Kamloops. The streets are so empty that the bicyclists feel safe enough to cycle. Crossing the street as a pedestrian feels safe too. The air is quiet and clear, with little noise or car fumes.
But now with COVID-19 restrictions easing, bit by bit, the vehicle traffic is picking up in Kamloops. Soon, we will be back to heavier traffic. Rush hour traffic will start backing up again, and people will once again complain that vehicle congestion needs to be improved.
But, now, during COVID-19 times, it’s clear that when vehicles aren’t there, people will use the space for walking, running and biking.
Post-COVID-19, the goal of the traffic and transportation engineer should be to preserve the vehicle free space that we have all been enjoying.
We don’t have to go back to the pre-COVID-19 times, like clogged intersections, the dangerous pedestrian crossings, and the unsafe bicycling routes. We, with the traffic and transportation engineer leading the way, can design the city for the 90,000 residents, rather than for the 58,000 vehicles.
One thing that COVID-19 has done is shown cities don’t have to always prioritize vehicles in their design. COVID-19 social distancing rules have spurred cities across North America to close city streets to vehicle traffic, or more importantly, opened city streets to people.
Locally, the road around McArthur Island has been closed to give people another place to walk safely. Now, the City is looking at closing some streets in downtown Kamloops to vehicles to give people more place to gather, walk, and dine.
Across North America, cities are doing the same. Calgary, Winnipeg, Denver Colorado, and St Paul Minnesota, have all closed roads. Vancouver, like Kamloops, has barred vehicles from roads in some parks. During COVID-19, Oakland California has closed 10% of its streets to vehicle traffic.
COVID-19 has given us a unique opportunity to pause and realize that designing cities for people, rather than vehicles, is far more pleasant, safer and healthier.
I say welcome to the new City of Kamloops traffic and transportation engineer. And hope that their job title could be renamed to City of Kamloops people and transportation engineer instead.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.