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PAINFUL TRUTH: Why we won’t fix traffic

A better future is visible, but out of reach politically
Langley City approved a $1.3 million overhaul of 208th street to make it more bike-friendly last year. (file)

We could, potentially, transform the Lower Mainland into a transportation wonderland. During the next 10 to 20 years, we could reduce car travel, massively increase transit, encourage cycling, creating a cleaner, healthier future.

But we won’t.

In its most recent Clean BC plans, the provincial government laid out goals that included reducing distances travelled in light-duty cars and trucks by 25 per cent by 2030, increasing the share of trips made on foot, by bike, or by transit by 30 per cent by 2030, 40 per cent by 2040, and 50 per cent by 2050.

Here’s a few policies that could make that happen:

• More light rail

That means SkyTrain, beyond what’s planned now to Langley. It means at-grade rail and trolleys, too.

• Bus Rapid Transit

There’s a fair bit of these dedicated bus lanes planned for the near future, but we need more, faster.

• Bike infrastructure

Not just bike lanes but also mandated bike parking areas, covered, at shopping centres, office parks, and other businesses.

• Buses

Loads of buses. Bus service to medium-density suburbs should be available at least every 10 to 15 minutes, within a 10-minute walk of most homes.

Those are the carrots. So here are the sticks.

• Fewer parking spots

For businesses, but also for new home construction, via provincial fiat. No more than one parking stall per unit in condos and townhouses, going forward.

• Car ownership fees

To pay for all that transit, levy a hefty annual fee on car ownership – graduated so that those in areas well served by transit pay the most, and those who require a car for business, mobility reasons, or who live out in the ALR on farms pay a token amount, or nothing.

• Stop widening highways

Traffic engineers will tell you that every time you expand a highway, all you get is a clogged up highway, again. It’s called induced demand. So we stop doing that.

• Work from home

Force employers to allow workers who can do their jobs from home to do so, at least three days a week to start.

You can see why I say this won’t happen.

The net effect of mass car ownership and cities built around cars is pretty bad. Pollution, sprawl, habitat destruction, loss of farmland – we know these aren’t great.

But there is no more frictionless mode of travel than the personal automobile. We’ve bent every policy towards making this true during the past 70-plus years! It’s literally impossible for many people, including me, to give up their cars.

Bending the arc back – towards transit, bikes, scooters, and foot traffic – would be to court total political wipeout. And there’s no way to get all of this done over one term, even if you rammed these changes through as fast as possible.

So those lofty goals? I doubt very much we’re going to reach them.

READ ALSO: PAINFUL TRUTH: Why can’t government act?

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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