Baseline Rapid Transit and contempt for communities

So Baseline is getting a Bus Rapid Transit makeover. I’m not going to get into the merits of the plan in the post (I generally like the project, but I don’t like all the details), but I want to highlight one issue surrounding the plan, and the greater problems in so many of our city plans.

College Ward Councillor Rick Chiarelli brought up the problem: the new bus plan will mean that people living in a number of residential buildings (condos, a retirement home) will suddenly have a much longer walk to a bus stop and this will greatly deter bus ridership.

He’s absolutely correct. Too often, we make it inconvenient to take the bus, promote car use and then wonder why we’re not reaching ridership goals. It’s a common problem, but it’s not what I’m thinking about right now.

No, the problem comes with the reason that the residents along Baseline would be so inconvenienced. Transportation Chair Keith Egli argued that putting in more stops would make the whole thing less rapid.

The implication of this is that Baseline Rapid Transit isn’t being designed to help people who live in the neighbourhood along the bus route. No, it is being designed to help people travel though the neighbourhood, as fast as possible.

This is the same reason we have a highway running through the centre of our city. It’s why we won’t put bike lanes on Bank Street. It’s like the city wants to pretend that no one lives on the street, just travels along it.

It’s why Metcalfe, O’Connor, Lyon and Kent are such wretched streets–they’re designed to get people through the neighbourhood and flee.

It’s why suburban councillors opposed the Main Street improvements…because it would add three minutes onto the trips of commuters racing through the neighbourhood.

It looks like the city will find some compromises to keep the buses rapid without totally neglecting the residents who need to catch a ride, but this should have been considered much earlier. With this project, Baseline is primed for some transit-oriented development (TOD). We shouldn’t be scuttling it before we can even start.

This is mentality–that inner neighbourhoods are mostly just nuisances for commuters–has to change. Neighbourhood development projects need to consider the concerns of those who are living in the neighbourhood. Long-distance transportation has to take a backseat to liveability.

Some time ago, I wrote about how confounding it was that suburban dwellers supported more sprawl (sorry, can’t find the post). I understood that they liked being on the edges of the city, but I didn’t get why they would want the city to keep expanding, leading to more and more people wanting to speed through their neighbourhoods into the core.

This is what might be happening to College Ward, and it is a direct result of sprawl and disdain for non-suburban living. It needs to change, and people in the inner suburbs need to realize they are the next victim of this attitude (if they aren’t already).

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