Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Choice of Engineering

When it comes to transit, not everyone thinks the same way I do. I can understand the arguments people make in favor of their cars - it's quicker, more comfortable, and they don't have to wedge themselves into the press of humanity that is an Expo Line SkyTrain no matter what time of day it is - but they're not for me. All I ever ask is that those people reciprocate; all I want is a wider understanding of people like me, people who choose public transit before private. Both modes are going to be an integral part of our transportation network for a long time to come, and creating an "us versus them" dichotomy serves no one.

It serves no one, at least, but it's advantageous to people who are peddling a particular political philosophy. Look east, to Toronto: last year Rob Ford was swept into office as the beneficiary years of media rhetoric that presumed the existence of a "war on cars" - a war that, at one point, the Toronto Sun defined as including speed bumps. Today, the city of Vancouver is gearing up for an election, and while it fortunately doesn't have to worry about the car-centric suburbs getting a vote, I can hear the same wheels spinning as were spun in Toronto last year - but they're not so much "spinning" as they are "furiously grinding, sending off a crazy shower of sparks."

My evidence: a Tuesday editorial in The Province - readable here on the Price Tags blog, as I have no desire to send extra traffic to that paper - which takes TransLink to task for... its ridership being at an all-time high? I remember writing about this the other day; I recall casting it as a good thing, meaning that more and more people in Metro Vancouver were considering transit a serious alternative for their getting-around needs, and that such a demand is necessary for TransLink to continue expanding its transit network, rather than be stuck with an ineffective, crumbling system as Toronto is.

The Province has another idea. You want to know why there are transit problems? Because of "the overpaid social engineers at TransLink, on various municipal councils, and various taxpayer funded institutions such as Simon Fraser University" - and because it's striving to keep expanding its network. According to those paragons of sentience at The Province, TransLink's ridership record "can largely be blamed" - blamed, mind you, in case any of you foolish sorts thought more people on transit was a good thing - "on the organization and its backers' constant attack on drivers." Aside from taxes, the paper blames "a failure to upgrade the road system leading to congestion" as forcing people onto public transit.

It is only the lack of grammatical errors that leads me to conclude that this editorial was not, in fact, written on Bizarro World.

Taking advantage of quick, efficient, inexpensive public transit to and from the airport? HOW DARE YOU!

Price Tags is right - that editorial reflects an attitude that should be decades buried. From my perspective it exhibits a paradoxical attitude, namely that while expansion of a public transit system is "social engineering" and a reflection of too high a tax burden, the expansion of a private transit system - Metro Vancouver's road network - is only natural. I can only suppose that the concept of induced demand is beyond the ken of The Province or its intended readership, as the idea of reducing congestion by building more preferable alternatives to driving, rather than building new roads and new lanes that will quickly be congested by new drivers, can seem a bit counterintuitive.

Granted, this isn't anything new for The Province. Its philosophies are those of a segment of society that had its day in the sun, and is slowly but steadily losing its grip on the discourse. In the meantime, though, there's still a lot of opportunity for significant damage to be done. To have a transit network that exceeds ridership records is something that deserves commendations, not blame. I suppose what I find most loathsome, though, is the paper's smug assumption that the only reason people ride transit is because they have no better choice.

I choose to get around by transit. I choose not to own a car, to the degree that I'm letting my Ontario driver's license expire and replacing it with a simple BC ID card. I choose not to be a part of that system, and there is no reason why my choice should be invalid. If TransLink is engineering anything, it's not society - only the means by which society may make a choice other than the car.

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