I was quite disheartened to read that Mayor Lois Jackson's motion to begin planning on an expanded light rapid transit network was met with a decisive no at the Mayors'Council last week.
It represents a special sort of short sightedness that is iconic of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. This creates a piecemeal approach to infrastructure that approves individual projects in isolation of one another without sufficient consideration of the future.
Consider the Canada Line.
Its platforms were built to only accommodate two thirds of its maximum train length without being expanded; this was not a decision made with long-term planning in mind.
Mayor Jackson is absolutely right in saying that we have to think about building capacity for 75 years into the future rather than merely extending existing transit lines.
We will be able to plan out a much more efficient transit network if all current and potential projects support each other and a unified vision.
Portland's transit system is a fine example of this. Their MAX system consists of five lines that connect Beaverton and various suburban areas to downtown Portland and two inner city street car lines.
In my experience and by all accounts, it is a very effective method of getting people in and out of the city. Their flat rate fare of $5 a day is just a cherry on top.
This network was not constructed in one fell swoop, but pieced together from six separate projects and 97 stations. The difference is that each part served a grander vision than playing catch up with traffic congestion through individual corridors. With housing in Vancouver becoming an ever more distant dream for many of the people who work in the city, a lot of the future growth will be borne by its surrounding communities and an expansion east into the Fraser Valley on both sides of the river. We need to formulate a transit plan that can account for this growth and get people out of their cars. As much as certain mayors would like to believe it, bike lanes are not going to do the trick.
With stated prices as low as a quarter of the cost of skytrain, LRT could be the long-term transportation solution that we need for the Lower Mainland. Our new provincial government could demonstrate effective leadership while addressing transportation, environmental, and housing concerns by putting forward a vision of a future transit network. Unfortunately, I am not confident that any government would do so. It is one of those ideas that is too big and too risky with benefits that will not be realized for decades.
But still, we can dream. In the meantime, our governments will do the best they can by chipping away at congestion one project at a time.