We Can't Get Around Without Our Cars
Thursday, June 23, 2005
The good news? Finally, after years of yearning, we are officially a world-class city.
The bad news? It will take you five hours to drive from one side to the other just to deliver the press release.
In a flash of the blatantly obvious -- at least to anyone who has driven around town in the past year or so and who doesn't cotton to the kind of anti-growth, car-bashing, crunchy-granola philosophy wafting up from Commercial Drive these days -- it has now been reported that the Lower Mainland rush hour is actually five hours long, double what it was 10 years ago.
That means we have joined the likes of Los Angeles and New York and Chicago, and other large sexy North American cities where most of the people work in the city but live in the suburbs, and where the U.S. census finds that, more and more, people are living out their lives in their cars, just getting from the house to the office, or the school, or the dentist, in the course of the average day.
That we've joined the world-class club is no surprise to those of us lucky enough to live in Vancouver's suburbs, where we have purposefully decamped from the expensive, noisy, cramped city limits for the pure pleasure of affordable housing, over-the-back-fence friendliness and space, precious space.
But there is a price.
The math is worth noting: The current population of B.C. is just over four million. According to ICBC, there are 3.5 million registered vehicles -- including trucks and motorcycles -- in the province. That's nearly one personal motorized carrier for each and every one of us.
It's the same story for the Lower Mainland: Two million people driving about 1.3 million vehicles.
We do like our cars.
And even if we didn't -- let's face it, they're pricey, from the sticker tag to the $1-a-litre gas to the insurance to the maintenance -- we don't have much choice.
Which is why the Birkenstock crowd, and the bike-lane zealots, and the no-Wal-Mart/stop-the-Port Mann Bridge-Highway 1 expansion natterers are so annoying.
Not because they don't have a point. They do. Who really wants more congestion, more pollution, more accidents, more road rage?
Who doesn't want sustainable livability that respects the environment and is the real definition of world class?
No, they're annoying because they're so ill-informed, or, worse yet, wilfully blind to the reality of living and working and getting around, at least east of Boundary Road.
The reality is that most of us work in the city core, but do not live there -- a one-third to two-third population ratio, according to Statistics Canada -- no matter how much we want to believe that there's an inner-city revival.
Downtown is not entirely a wasteland, but pick any weeknight about 8 p.m. and you'll find far more energy 10 or 20 kilometres out, on any major intersection in Richmond, Burnaby or Surrey.
So here's a message for all those folks who managed to shut out commuters to Commercial Drive last weekend, in a much-publicized car-free festival that was a perfectly timed rebuff for outsider families seeking a plate of Father's Day pasta:
You want to blame the five-hour rush, and the brutal traffic jams clogging your neighbourhood, along with everybody else's, on someone?
Then confine your kvetching to the politicians and urban planners and property developers who have collectively let us down by allowing unchecked growth without adequate transit and related infrastructures.
Have at the bureaucrats and decision-makers who have pitched and not delivered the much-lauded town centre concept, which was supposed to twin population movement and growth with private and public services, putting the jobs and the schools and all the related amenities right where the people actually live.
Why berate the men and women forced to sit in their idling cars in the Massey Tunnel or on the Pattullo Bridge every day between 1 and 6 p.m.?
Why throw out trendy eco-solutions like car-sharing, which might work if you're driving once a month from Three Vets to the ferry terminal, but will only draw an amused chuckle from a working soccer mom living in Brookswood?
Here's our shared dilemma.
Build a suburb, and they will come. Boy, will they come.
But, for now anyway, they'll need their cars to get in and out.
Instead of holding exclusive street parties that alienate your target audience, try driving a mile in their shoes.
Now there's a reality show.