Municipal Improvement Districts and retrofitting signs smartly

Deputation transcript: 22 June 2015, item 2015.TE8.1, Toronto-East York Community Council

“Down Memory Lane” ©© by Mary Crandall

“Down Memory Lane” ©© by Mary Crandall

Editing notes: On Toronto-East York Community Council item 2015.TE8.1, 30 km/h Speed Limit on Local Roads in the Toronto and East York Community Council Area. The item would go on to pass overwhelmingly. The proposals in this deputation were received by the committee with one councillor asking a question, but no further actions were taken.

Council, let’s pass this like we mean it!

But before it’s all wrapped up and the question’s called, why don’t we go the extra mile by making this item even better and see whether we can save up to 700 grand before adjournment?

This evening, we’re all here because citizens in Toronto-East York and our community councillors acknowledge a mutual urgency to bring speed limits on our local streets into line with:

  • how we want to use them,
  • how we want them to be used, and
  • how we hope to shape them to enrich the social welfare of our local communities.

Our own Dr. David McKeown’s findings on this matter are clear: lowering velocities on local streets positively benefits the state of our public health. We’re here tonight with a responsibility to show that adopting the good doctor’s recommendations is totally doable without inducing negative externalities.

Given this, it can only benefit us to improve on the integrity of this item as you move to decide in its favour. It’s safe to say that we all want to be sure it’s graced with the care it deserves so that it can help to define our community as a hospitable, economically fertile, and more equitable part of the city for anyone travelling within it.

That said, I have two amendment ideas which may further improve a good thing.

Toronto–East York Community Council — Special Meeting called for Item 2015.TE8.1. Deputant Astrid Idlewild speaking (beginning at time index 1:29:08), Monday, 22 June 2015 [City of Toronto].

Updating signage affordably

The first amendment is to reduce the cost of updating our existing signage. If passed as-is, the staff’s estimate to replace roughly 4,450 signs, at $225 each, tips at just over a million dollars. The report, however, does not distinguish materials from labour.

I mention this because earlier this year, the Washington state legislature proposed changing fifty speed limit signs along one of its highways.

Much like today’s item, its proposal calls for a one-digit change to that highway’s speed limit. The difference from our situation, however, is cost: state staff estimated the total materials cost of DOT-approved, reflective “overlay stickers” at $2,700. That means covering one digit with a sticker instead of tossing the entire sign. For Washington, that amounts to $54 a sign (or, for us, about $66).

Reflective “overlay stickers” are a great way to update our signage without cutting short the life cycle of existing stock. Even without a bulk discount, our cost to update signs using overlay stickers would run us around $293,000. By contrast, that’s over $700,000 (or, over 70 per cent less) than what our staff is proposing by replacing the entire signs.

Studying “Municipal Improvement Districts” as a revenue generator

Meanwhile, the second amendment, to solicit a staff report on feasibility for future adoption, takes a longer view on what this item wants to accomplish — that is: better streets, friendlier streets, safer streets. This longer view includes a carrot for all of Toronto.

It’s a conservative observation that a speed limit reduction alone on our local streets won’t be enough to change motorist habits as widespread as what we’re aiming for — especially when motorist ideology is frequently at odds with the spirit of this Item. With only one recent study arguing otherwise for a small town (whose circumstances and motorist culture departs from our situation), there remains little material evidence to support that changing our speed limit signage alone will do the trick as effectively as we’re envisioning it.

So here are five things you may want to have staff explore in a study:

  1. The feasibility of designating all local streets in Toronto-East York as a novel Municipal Improvement District, or MID.
  2. The feasibility of using tax-increment financing to subsidize the capital cost of robust traffic calming infrastructure for this MID.
  3. The feasibility of whether a TIF subsidy is well suited to this scale, and whether the risk is fairly low for our city’s strong credit rating.
  4. The feasibility of adopting the above, with a carrot to reduce residential property tax rates for all of Toronto, proportionate to the amount of the TIF subsidy for the MID. This carrot is a low-risk pledge that property values inside this MID will climb at a markedly faster pace if robust traffic-calming infrastructure is in place. (Why? Because living within this MID is awesome!), and that the acceleration in property values within this MID may offset both the TIF subsidy and reduced property tax rate.
  5. The feasibility of echoing the same MID model for other areas of the city which are interested to follow this lead, provided that the above works out for Toronto-East York.

Anyway, that’s all. Thank you all for lending your brains.