Complete Streets: An Interview with TCAT’s Nancy Smith Lea

It’s been a big year for Toronto’s streets. The good: Bixi is set to launch on May 3rd and Jarvis received a new bike lane. The not so good: we’ve seen lackluster vision for urban streets in both municipal and federal elections and the Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee is currently on the chopping block.

Leading up to the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation (TCAT) and the Clean Air Partnership’s Complete Streets Forum this week, Spacing caught up with TCAT’s director, Nancy Smith Lea.

Reflecting back on the year that was, “the most important development has been the uptake in the use of the term ‘complete streets’. There has been a rallying around this vision,” she says. It’s a vision that’s hard to disagree with: complete streets are designed to be safe, accessible and inclusive for users of all ages and abilities. All the same, Smith Lea is encouraged by the increased use of the term by advocates, City staff and professionals.

“It has really helped advocates to form a positive vision.” She cites the Open Letter to Candidates about Complete Streets as an example. “It’s too easy to get focused on what is wrong. It’s really helpful to have everyone on the same page in terms of what we want to change and what we want that change to look like.”

In the face of local challenges, Smith Lea draws inspiration from other cities and individuals pursuing complete streets planning, design and implementation. In the U.S., New York City’s handling of bike lane backlash and Portland, Oregon’s safe routes to schools and bike corral initiatives stand out as amazing examples of what is possible. This week’s forum will welcome representatives of both cities, Hillary Poole, Senior Project Manager in Implementation & Safety at the New York City Department of Transportation and Mia Birk of Alta Planning + Design.

Closer to home, Smith Lea cites Waterloo, Ontario, which last week passed what is believed to be the first complete streets policy in Canada. “Waterloo is a municipality to watch. They are really leading the way and putting in lots of innovative designs.” Chris Hodgson, the Waterloo’s Project Manager for Capital Projects & Services will speak at the Forum.

Other program highlights include Susan Eng, Vice President, Advocacy for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons who will provide some perspective on seniors’ safety and Michel Labrecque, Chairman, Board of Directors, Société de transport de Montréal, on his city’s unique “transportation cocktail”.

Smith Lea maintains an open mind about what Toronto’s approach should look like. “We already have a lot of really good policies in Toronto so it is worth considering whether we actually need another policy and if we do, how it will fit with existing policies. As long as we can continue to move forward, I don’t care how we achieve complete streets.”

Towards that end, TCAT will be putting together a Complete Streets by Design resource which will serve as a visual collection of implementable design solutions for both urban and suburban contexts. TCAT will continue to develop tools and build the research that professionals and advocates can use to improve conditions for all road users, such as this week’s forum.

“The Complete Streets Forum is designed to speed up progress on the work that people are doing in these areas. We see our role as facilitating collaboration between Toronto and the surrounding region, between City departments, between politicians and advocates. This approach is critical to move forward.”

The Complete Streets Forum will be held April 28, 2011 at Hart House. For more information or to register for this year’s event, please go to:

Image from Steven Vance


  1. The Steve Vance photo above is of NYC bike lanes at Eastern Parkway & Flatbush in Brooklyn.

    The GPS coordinates are: 40.672774,-73.96952. Enter them in Google Map then click on Streetview to see the above bike lanes.

    There were 3 Eastern Parkways in the US, the others being in Louisville KY, and Schenectady, NY. A worthy SpacingSatellite challenge!

  2. I’m your average Toronto cyclist.

    Complete Streets is a vision we should all be talking about.

    Smith Lea is one of the most sensible, knowledgeable and rational voices you will ever hear about Toronto road use design and policy.

    Listen up!

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