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Courier Article on the Car-Free Commercial Drive Festival

http://www.vancourier.com/issues05/064205/opinion/064205op3.html

Car-free festival a stop sign of times to come

By Kevin Potvin

Sunday on The Drive just about nailed it for good. If the province and the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) still think they are going to ram the extra traffic from their ill-conceived Gateway project through this neighbourhood, they're going to have to pave over just about every resident of it. That's about how many of the local residents came out to celebrate the car-free Commercial Drive Festival.

This neighbourhood celebration was just about the most successful public event I've ever seen. It was initiated by a dedicated group of volunteers motivated by a desire to convince the public and their leaders that the Highway One widening is a terrible idea. The lesson they hoped to drive home when they organized the festival was that this sort of community event in this sort of neighbourhood would likely not be possible once more commuting traffic is pushed through our streets, such as would happen if Highway One were widened to more lanes-the central aspect of the province's Gateway project.

And boy, was that lesson ever driven home. Organizers told me they were shocked at the number of people who came out. Merchants were amazed to see this much foot traffic. Residents were beaming ear to ear. The plan to close The Drive to cars for part of one day to demonstrate what might be possible for residents turned into a demonstration of what is plainly impossible for the GVRD and the province.

Something went wrong in the planning departments of the regional and provincial authorities. While environmental impact studies were done, financial sustainability assessments were completed, road use surveys were conducted, and stakeholder consultations were carried out, somewhere along the way, the idea that it might be good to assess the impact on the most vulnerable neighbourhood was completely lost.

The public came out by the tens of thousands to remind the GVRD and the province that they'd better go back to the drawing board on this whole Gateway project and think again. One thing they ought to review is their by now outdated assumption that moving more cars is the answer to the transportation problems associated with an increasingly crowded metropolitan area.

At this point, most people haven't even heard of or fully understand the extent of the plan the GVRD and the province have cooked up with the Gateway project. The highway cabal nestled deeply in the bureaucracy of the highways ministry at the province and in the transportation department of the GVRD have succeeded in convincing a few elected leaders that if only cars and trucks could move more freely on more lanes into and out of downtown, the loss of economic activity associated with traffic jams would evaporate. The elected leaders began counting the campaign contributions and votes that could be generated by serving the commuters, truck associations and other vested interests.

Wait until residents throughout the affected neighbourhoods, which include virtually all of Vancouver, get a clear picture of what the bureaucracy and the elected leaders have planned. Then you will see the tens of thousands that flooded Commercial Drive turn not just into one hundred thousand, but into a new political movement capable of electing candidates in existing parties or possibly even creating a new political party.

It should not be overlooked that the car-free Commercial Drive Fest came on a day when oil on international markets hit a new record high touching $60 US a barrel. No expert is predicting the price to move down. This is the beginning of the end of the oil-soaked economy.

So far as the highway expansion is concerned, we may well find the new lanes as well as the old frighteningly empty sooner than anyone imagined possible.

This is the reality for all of North America. Imagine the alternative: while all other cities come to a grinding halt when oil hits $200 US a barrel (an increase proportionately the same as what has already happened just in the last 18 months), Greater Vancouver's people and economy pretty much keeps moving along smoothly, lubricated by a hydro electric-powered public transit system.

The end of the private car is not our choice to make-it is the reality of the near future. Our choice is to either plan for it or get crushed by it.

As of Sunday, our elected leaders face the same sort of choice when confronting the popular will.

posted on 06/22/2005





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