Building a nation from coast to coast to coast was no small feat for Canada’s forebears. The sheer vastness of the land meant transportation was important to access remote areas, to establish the country’s borders, and to connect people and markets. Transportation played a key role in Canada’s historical development and it continues to be critical to our present and future.
In its annual edition of Transportation in Canada [i], the federal government reports that transportation and warehousing represented 4.3% of total GDP and employed nearly 900,000 people in 2015. While those data capture the significant impact of activities directly linked to for-hire or commercial transportation, the sector has much broader impacts as an important economic enabler. Transportation facilitates the mobility of people, allows for goods movement, and supports human and environmental health. With public and private sector stakeholders involved in pipeline, air, rail, marine, and road modes, the transportation sector is a dynamic and complex component of Canada’s economy.
In this landscape, the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) is a not-for-profit, national technical association that focusses on road and highway infrastructure and urban transportation. Its 500 corporate members include all levels of governments, private sector companies, academic institutions, and other associations. TAC provides a neutral, non-partisan forum for those organizations, and their thousands of staff, to come together to share ideas and information, build knowledge, and pool resources in addressing common transportation issues and challenges.
TAC celebrated its centennial in 2014 and, with over 100 years of history in the transportation sector, is continuing its important work to develop publications identifying best practices and encouraging harmonization of those practices across jurisdictions. While TAC does not set standards, it is a principle source of guidelines for planning, design, construction, management, operation, and maintenance of road, highway, and urban transportation infrastructure systems and services. Notably, the Association is responsible for the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Canada, a comprehensive collection of the approved regulatory and warning signs, signals, and pavement markings used across Canada. TAC’s 250-plus publications were developed through collaborative initiatives that saw members contribute their money, time, and expertise to improve the state of practice across Canada’s transportation network.
One of TAC’s flagship documents is the Geometric Design Guide for Canadian Roads (GDG), the fundamental reference used by roadway designers across the country. First published in 1963 and regularly updated, the Guide has contributed to the consistent and safe development and expansion of local, regional, provincial, and national roadway and highway systems in Canada. Over the last three years, TAC and its members have invested nearly $1.5 million to prepare a new edition for release in 2017. Practitioners anticipate new content addressing design exceptions, human factors, roadside and roundabout design, as well as refreshed content on standard design practices, will enhance the safety, security, and efficiency with which goods and people can move on Canadian roads.
Remarking on the significance of the release of a new GDG, TAC’s Executive Director, Dr. Sarah Wells, observed, “There is so much to be excited about in transportation these days. We are seeing major change – change that will bring challenges requiring commitment and creativity to manage but that also promises opportunities to improve our transportation and mobility with safety, social, environmental, and economic benefits for us all.” Dr. Wells noted that through the Association’s function as a forum, TAC members have identified several issues that will be a focus for their collaborative efforts for some time to come.
Some Critical Issues in Transportation
Canada’s infrastructure deficit has been widely reported for many years. Despite recent significant investments by governments and the private sector in roads, bridges, and public transit, need for more persists. Indeed, the 2016 Canadian Infrastructure Report Card[ii] suggests that the current rate of investment in municipally-owned roads and bridges is not sufficient to prevent a decline in infrastructure conditions over time. The challenge of securing long-term, sustainable funding for transportation is an ongoing concern, given the fiscal realities most regions are facing. Alternative financing models, such as public-private partnerships, offer opportunities to fund projects and share the risks and benefits of investing in transportation. Asset management programs, which help ensure those investments are made in the right projects at the right time, are being implemented in more and more jurisdictions. Furthermore, when managing assets, means to include social, environmental, and innovation factors along with traditional condition data is of growing importance.
In all aspects of modern life, technology is changing rapidly. In transportation, technological developments have potentially profound impacts on demand for, and construction, operation, maintenance, and delivery of, infrastructure and services. The future will look different than the present as automated and connected vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), and electrification initiatives change transportation as we know it. Connectivity also means vast amounts of data are generated that offer potential to improve transportation, but processing and analyzing the data so that it is useful for decision-makers and understood by the public can be challenging.
In urban areas, greater attention is being paid to the integration of land-use planning and transportation, recognizing the potential that offers to improve mobility and enhance urban form. Increasing the use of active modes of transportation, like walking and cycling, offers benefits for both individual and environmental health. Planning, designing, and building ‘complete streets,’ which accommodate all modes of transportation for users of all ages and abilities, is expected to improve the overall health of our communities. Tools and guidelines are needed to support transportation planners and engineers as they incorporate these kinds of approaches in their work.
Transportation is known to generate significant greenhouse gasses, which affect the world’s climate. It is also a sector that faces serious challenges to ensure infrastructure is resilient to the impacts of climate change, including unpredictable weather and storm events. Sharing research and experience with mitigation and adaptation initiatives is a pressing priority to minimize the detrimental effects of climate change. These efforts will ensure that Canada’s transportation network continues to provide the level of service that the Canadian economy and people require every day.
TAC: A place for all with shared interests
TAC’s broad cross section of members have vibrant on-line and live forums where these critical issues and myriad other topics are discussed. Innovative solutions are sought and shared through TAC’s committees, conferences, exhibitions, meetings, events, seminars, and webinars. The Association’s doors are open to organizations with shared interests seeking a place to connect with other experts in this field.
“Transportation is a sector that touches the lives of all Canadians and we are currently experiencing a period of evolution, even revolution. With our growing understanding of environmental and human health issues, and with advancing technological opportunities, transportation promises to be ever more important to our social and economic well-being. TAC members make a real difference in the sector; it is a great time to be involved in the Association,” explains Dr. Wells. More information about joining the Transportation Association of Canada or other means to participate in its projects and events can be found on the TAC website at www.tac-atc.ca.