Who Does What Report | 2023

The Municipal Role in Transportation

Quality of life in cities is intimately linked to the ease of getting around. Transportation is therefore a key issue for municipal policy makers. Moreover, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canadian cities, which makes it central in addressing climate change. While the federal and provincial governments oversee long-distance transportation, municipalities are responsible for public transit, local highways and roads, and active transportation. Modifying policies and priorities at all orders of government could give cities better tools to improve transportation and reduce emissions.

The sixth report in the Who Does What series from the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG) and the Urban Policy Lab focuses on the role that Canadian municipalities presently play in transportation and how that role can be supported by other orders of government.

Fanny Tremblay-Racicot focusses on the relationship between transportation, land use, and mobility. She points out that municipalities have an important influence on these policy areas. However, in the absence of legislative requirements or funding conditions from the federal and provincial governments, they have little incentive to consider the long run sustainability of transportation and urban planning beyond providing services.

Patricia Burke Wood argues that Canada's urban transportation governance structures are weak and uncoordinated. Following international models, Canadian cities need collaborative and regional transportation governance in order to provide better service to transit riders. Furthermore, Wood recommends that municipalities play a leading role in these governance structures and be at the centre of efforts to coordinate travel across local networks.

Carolyn Kim, Chandan Bhardwaj, and Adam Thorn recognize that road freight, a key to economic growth in municipalities, should lower emissions in order to become sustainable. They call for cities to use policy levers such as congestion pricing, procurement specifications, education, and route optimization to reduce freight transportation emissions.

Marie-Ève Assunçao-Denis and Matt Pinder examine tools to prioritize walking and cycling in cities such as design manuals, zoning and development policies, funding programs and intergovernmental cooperation. They recommend that governments emphasize improvements to active transportation as much as improvements to motorized transportation to ensure the development and enhancement of people-friendly cities.

Read the paper

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