Shifting Gears

It’s time. As a alluded to back at the beginning of the year, it’s time to start blogging again. For reasons I won’t go into, as I suspect most of you are already aware, I no longer have a platform to share my ideas publicly. And the truth is I’ve missed it. I wasn’t sure that I would but after a much-needed break I’ve realized that it is indeed the case. Whether or not anyone has actually reading my thoughts will have to remain to be seen.

The truth is it’s a good time to start as 2018 promises to be an exciting year. We have the Junos coming next spring, this fall will see a municipal election, we have our rapid transit initiative underway (more on that below) — all this over-and-above all the fun and excitement that happens here in the abnormal course of affairs. And I want to share my thoughts on all of it — and likely more. To be clear, I have no intention of doing anything crazy like attending city council meeting anymore than I do already. I’m not a journalist or a sucker for punishment. My intention is to simply deal instead in opinions, rumours, conjecture and stuff I made up. What could possibly go wrong?

So let’s get started. Tonight I intend to discuss Shift London, which if you don’t know is "a bold and important initiative for transportation for London. It focuses on rapid transit as part – along with cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians– of the transportation system that will help our city grow and prosper.” It started out as light-rail transit, but as is the local tradition, has been continually and consistently watered down to the point where I suspect it will be little more than a little more than a pair of rickshaws by the time we’re done with it. The truth of the matter is that I lost some enthusiasm for the entire endeavour once LRT was off the tracks, but have maintained that BRT will suffice. It’s more a bus start than a bus stop at the very least. The idea of doing nothing but adding endless car lanes is no longer a viable option and it seems to me that any improvements to our current public transportation system are not only welcome, but likely long overdue.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most constant and loudest opposition is coming from those who have rarely taken public transport and have little intention of doing so going forward, If you were to pinpoint it on a map, it would be around the area of Old North - specifically Richmond Street from Oxford to approximately …. oh let’s sayWindermere. Perhaps that’s unfair, I know a lot of people oppose the current plan for a number of reasons, but this specific stretch of road seems to be the most contested. I actually suggested moving the bus routes over to the Parkway to try to help out, but city planners did not think enough of my idea to even bother replying.

Residents in the area publicly stated that they has concerns that heritage properties and trees would be lost if that stretch of Richmond were widened. I actually agree that these are valid concerns, although I remained a little sceptical that this was what they actually opposed. As I knew last summer, and as everyone who was paying even a modicum of attention would have, the buses were still going to go there. In dedicated lanes. However it was recently discovered that this was actually a surprise to many.

It was recently presented that many streets along the BRT corridors will in fact be widened to accommodate the designated bus lanes. That is not the case here - where vehicular traffic will be limited to one lane in each direction. There is also some kind of shared lane for u-turns or something. So, a victory right? The people spoke and the city listened! I love a happy ending? Wait. What’s that? They’re not happy? But so many trees and properties are going to be saved. It’s almost like that was never what any of this was about to begin with. The city has cited that this will only add a minute or two to the commute during rush hour, which admittedly seems a little optimistic. And don’t even get me started on such things as traffic accidents, snow removal, garbage collection or countless other things that could go wrong. Regardless, despite the victory in saving the trees and properties it appears that some people remain unhappy. They have, wait for it … lost a lane to buses in lieu of widening the road to accommodate. The road they specifically fought not to have widened. This is almost a perfect example of a group collectively shooting themselves in the foot as I can recall seeing in recent memory.

I’ll be the first to admit, I can afford to be a little smug. My daily commute to work consists of a 10 to 15 minute walk, at a leisurely pace, door-to-door. But that is not by accident, but by design. We intentionally bought a centrally located home in order to remain a one-car family and may even have paid a premium for it. Although homes in the north end of the city are not exactly bargain basement pricing so that may not actually be the case. All this being said, while I understand this may be an unpopular opinion, I actually have no problem with making driving a less convenient option. In fact, I suspect as many cities before us have learned it’s likely the best way to promote walking, biking and public transportation. And I’m fine with that. When visiting with a friend in Vancouver last summer taking the car was always the last resort. This is the case already with me presently but the difference is that there is seemed to be the prevalent opinion. Let’s not forget that Dundas will also be a flex street before we know it. This, in addition to other factors may (hopefully) mean that this is direction we ourselves are headed. People will decide to leave their cars at home when heading to the core for the simple reason that it’s too inconvenient. That feels weird even typing but also strangely exhilarating.

The final round of public consultations begins tomorrow and there is little doubt this is far from over. With the next municipal election coming this fall many candidates will almost certainly run on a platform of scrapping the entire plan. Of course, the city is no longer the only player - with provincial funds now pledged and the federal government (*fingers crossed*) likely to follow suit. There are also some indications that city staff are enamoured enough with the plan that I’m hopeful that at the very lest parts of it can be irrevocably secured before the next council has there way with it - should they be so inclined.

In the end, I’ve come to the realization that sometimes the so-called experts are in fact the actual experts. There are simply too many Facebook commenters who have somehow got the impression that they know better than those with education and experience in the area of urban design and/or city planning. There is ample evidence out there to convince me that those who opine that ride sharing and self driving vehicles will someone save us from a future of increasing gridlock are simply mistaken. As Jimmy Buffett once offered, "Is it ignorance or apathy? Hey, I don't know and I don't care.” The real worry of course is that they don’t actually oppose the plan, simply who proposed it. I have already seen some evidence of potential candidates bashing our current council for little other reason than they are occupying seats they feel they are destined to occupy. Would I prefer the trains not run through the centre of of our city? Of course. But they do and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’m not even going to pretend that the current plan is perfect. But I do believe it’s a step in the right direction and with a little patience and hard work it may eventually become a bus ride.