traffic study

The role of traffic study in development approvals

Undertaking a traffic study early can potentially avoid approval delays
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
by Gary Vlieg

It comes as no surprise that traffic in urban areas is becoming more congested every year and everyone blames the new developments. Let’s face it, if you are opposed to a particular development (and it doesn’t have to be in your neighbourhood) one of the easiest flags to raise is traffic. But are the problems as bad as some people make them out to be? Developers can overcome potential approval challenges with a traffic study.

Traffic engineers provide independent traffic engineering analysis that uses locally, provincially, nationally and internationally accepted methods and data to determine the effects of development on the transportation network. Traffic studies used to focus on the automobile and occasionally public transit. Fast forward to this century and while the main focus is still on the automobile, there is much more attention paid to public transit, bicycles, walking and car sharing.

Whether or not transportation problems associated with a development are as bad as some people make them out to be depends on a few factors. It depends on where the development is located and it depends on how effectively the development has integrated other modes of transport into the design.

If developing purely residential in a location that is removed from commercial or retail development and transit service is sparse, then the development is going to generate many vehicle trips. If the development is, however, located where commercial/retail development is within walking distance (500 metres) and there is good access to frequent transit service (bus or rail) then you will be generating the same number of person trips but substantially fewer automobile trips.

Regardless of the type of development, have preferential parking and access for car share/car pool vehicles been provided? Are there well lit, well designed pedestrian and cycling corridors to allow people direct and convenient access to public transit? What about bicycle parking (both short and long term)? All of these elements are key to reducing the number of vehicle trips.

In my industry, we are seeing more and more development applications being required to complete a transportation study – even if the development is completely consistent with the municipal plans for the property. This can be frustrating but looking at it from another perspective, undertaking the study from the outset has the potential to save the developer money in the form of time. Given the cost of land, particularly in metropolitan areas, each week that a project is delayed represents thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. The last thing that a developer needs is to have the project go to public hearing, have a number of people stand up in opposition, based in part on traffic and then have city council defer the project until a traffic study is completed. These studies are not completed overnight – there is data to be collected, reviewed and analyzed and then written up in a report. Depending on the size of the project, this can take three to six weeks to complete, and remember time is money. So now the whole project is waiting on the traffic study instead of having the study being undertaken concurrently with all of the other consultant work at the onset of the project.

Are there projects that are denied because of traffic concerns – certainly. But more often than not, when there is a traffic study completed by an independent traffic consultant, the project, if rejected, is turned down for reasons other than traffic.

A traffic study will point out how to rectify deficiencies in the transportation network so that the project can be successfully integrated into the community, so it’s an important consideration when seeking development approvals.

Gary Vlieg, MSc, PEng., is engineering group manager at Creative Transportation Solutions.

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