The most encouraging comment in response to the Province’s $14-billion transit vision comes from the Mayor of Surrey, Diane Watts:

“Once we know (the transit projects) are coming, the municipalities can plan their land use and make sure the densities are supportive.”

And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  The destination, not the trip; what you build, not how you move; the place, not the road.  The whole point of good transporation planning is complementary land-use and development strategies.

My criticism of Gateway was the message it sent: build around the car and truck; it’s the only realistic transport you’ll get.  And when congestion occurs, we’ll build you more roads and bridges. The Province was effectively locking in another generation to car-dependent urban form – what Chris Leinberger calls ‘drivable surburban.”  (More on that in the current Price Tags.) 

The Province’s transit plan is already being sliced and diced by critics, particularly for its absence of interurban rail south of the Fraser and the lack of guaranteed funds now and in the future from other jurisdictions.  But that misses the point: the government has captured the initiative, it has connected the dots between urban form, transportation and climate change.  It has made a convincing case that we can and will build our region around transit.  If we do it right, it may well turn out the much of Gateway’s road commitments was unnecessary

Importantly, there’s a substantial commitment to expanding the bus fleet, dedicating rights-of-way and quickly bringing in Rapidbus.  The lessons of Curitiba have finally made it north.  The Province has respected the bus as the work-horse of a good transit system, surprising those who thought it would, like most senior governments, have a rail obsession.

Sure, there will be more debate to come, particularly on local impacts and financial pressures.  But more powerful will be the consensus: we have the vision, the projects are identified, we can see how local areas connect to a regional strategy. Let’s move.

For those who fear that a downturn in the economy will see commitments drop away, I suspect that will be offset by the need to respond to climate change as a society and the need for transportation choice as the cost of oil and energy bite at the personal level.  In fact, I think you’ll see more projects added to the province’s list, particularly streetcars.

As a culture, we’re good at doing livable, dense, transit-supportive development.  In fact, we’ve been building more of it than the supportive transit.  Look at development in Port Moody, White Rock, Coquitlam, construction along the Millennium Line, and plans for station-areas on the Canada Line.   Unlike most places, which build the transit first and then hope for the development, we’ve done it the other way around.  Our problem has been too much success – too many people taking not enough transit.  Finally, we’ll be running faster to catch up to the social change that’s already occurred.