Here’s how the Mayors’ Council is trying to make transit a provincial election issue:
Curing congestion – who could be against that? And it resonates nicely with more than a half-century of advertising for nasal congestion that we have embedded in our minds.
But a note of caution …
We always think of congestion as a bad thing – and at some particular choke points, it is. But beyond the most egregious examples, there’s a belief that, ideally, traffic should always be able to flow at the posted speed limit.
So is congestion, then, traffic that is moving at 20 kmh rather than 50? Should our transportation system be aiming for constant free-flowing traffic at high speeds everywhere, all the time. That’s what the functional definition of congestion implies.(Tom-Tom is Smart-Smart – and Dumb-Dumb.) However, to achieve that ideal means destroying the idea of the city as a place of human exchange, with commensurately crowded public spaces.
The congestion-free ideal is used to justify billions in excessive transportation infrastructure that at best will temporarily deal with only one choke point and then, literally and metaphorically, move the problem down the road.
“This will be the largest bridge ever built in B.C. When completed, it will address what is now the worst traffic bottleneck in the province and bring travel time reliability to one of our most important transportation corridors, serving national, provincial and regional economies,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister, Todd Stone in December, 2016.
Nor will transit ‘solve’ the problem. It offers a choice and can help prevent a road-based problem from becoming a lot worse. It helps shape a less car-dependent urban form. But so long as the mentality of the ever-expanding free road exists, transit won’t deliver what the advertising promises: a cure for congestion.
If we continue to offer an illusion, we’ll be taking on a challenge that we can’t, and shouldn’t, meet.