Several big news articles relating to transportation caught my eye last week.
First, USA Today runs this article: Cities afraid of death by congestion.
A plan to widen part of Interstate 10 in metropolitan Phoenix from 14 lanes to 24 is the USA’s latest giant superhighway proposal designed to ease the kind of gridlock that some planners say could stunt economic growth.
The whole article is full of details of planned highway projects to build 24-lane behemoths all over the United States, from Atlanta to Washington. The main reason: reducing congestion that frustrates drivers and causes billions of dollars in lost economic gains. What really surprised me was that the article didn’t mention environmental impacts once, and public transit wasn’t even considered as an option to reduce congestion. I guess that just illustrates the thinking in the United States. When too many cars on the roads are a problem, you just build more roads.
In contrast, London mayor Ken Livingstone has managed to reduce traffic in west London by 13% by implementing a highly successful a congestion charge. The best part is that all the money from the congestion charge goes to improve London’s already amazing public transit system.
Meanwhile in Canada, the government gives $962 million dollars for Toronto subway expansion. The main reason “bumper-to-bumper traffic is putting strain on families, costing the province $2-billion a year in lost productivity and spewing greenhouse gases and pollutants into the air.” Oddly enough, no new money is provided to add an extra 12 lanes to the 401.
I think its great that the federal government is committing to public transit programs. But stable funding is really what the cities need. The big money is great for expanding subway lines, but in order to really improve service, regular funding is needed to buy buses and pay bus drivers.
The changes to the Vancouver transit authority, Translink, have fascinated me lately. The current board is being dismantled by the provincial government, mostly because current Transportation Minister (and general dink) Kevin Falcon doesn’t like them or their ambitious (and expensive) transit plans. The new board will be composed of mayors from all the cities in the Greater Vancouver area. Although I think it will be great to have an integrated board responsible for transit through the whole region, I’m worried what this will mean for transit in the City of Vancouver. Vancouver’s transit needs are a lot different then faraway communities like Hope. I also hope this addresses the stable funding issues Translink currently has. The new board will be given gas tax powers and the power to develop land around SkyTrain stations (which seems kind of weird to me). I’m hoping this story will have a happy ending, but getting 33 mayors from vastly different cities to try agree on transit plans seems nearly impossible.