When DH and I began planning our laneway we started by looking around at what was familiar to us. We had a pretty conventionally designed condo, two beds and two baths, and we couldn’t get around the idea that we were going to be living in less than half the space we had. We thought about what we would lose, not what we would gain.
We looked at how other people were downsizing and building laneways, we saw what we liked and what we didn’t like. And gradually it dawned on us that we shouldn’t just look at how other people live, or how we USED to live, we should look forward, to how we WANTED to live. We let our imaginations go a little. We didn’t just want an average house that had been shrunk, we wanted a new plan for us that would lead to a whole new life. We knew there would be sacrifices (Like “space”. And “things”.) But in the end we had exactly what we wanted.
There was no way to imagine at the beginning of the journey how it would end. And how it would change our lives.
Among many other advantages our new life has given us is that we drive less and take transit more often. And we like it. When the car was available down a flight of stairs we used it all the time — whenever we went down town or out for dinner or over to the kids. Even though transit was right there we didn’t even think about it, we had a car! Why not use it?
But now we take transit all the time. I take the 99 Express to work. It takes a little more time than driving, but I read or knit, and there’s no problem getting a seat because I’m at the end of the line (both ends of the line). We take transit down town, it’s less than half an hour and we don’t have to worry about parking. We get down to Granville Island without going through the Hell that is finding parking on a sunny Saturday. If we want to take in a Night Market we can zip out to Richmond or take the Sea Bus to North Vancouver. All in all Translink is a pretty good system.
So when Translink wanted to expand we were enthusiastically supportive. Even when the Provincial Government said that the local governments would have to raise their share through a sales tax hike (.5%) we said yes. But the Provincial Government wanted it put to a referendum; we said yes — but 62% of the region said no.
I was pretty steamed. Although I could also understand it. It’s the old problem of trying to see the end of the journey from where you are now (comfortably behind the wheel of your car).
Others were also frustrated. Peter Ladner in Business in Vancouver pointed out it was a pretty dumb idea in the first place (or as he put it more elegantly “Determining complex funding and planning issues with a single yes-no vote is an abysmal surrender of political leadership.”) Follow the link, he points out other lessons learned through the referendum process. Hard, nasty lessons, but lessons all the same.
But it was a column by Peter McMartin that put all my inchoate rage into a coherent verbal form. Read the whole thing, please, but for me this is the key issue:
The questions pile up. But the most perceptive question was one I heard in a conversation with Gordon Price, director of Simon Fraser University’s City program. To him, the plebiscite asked a question much more philosophical than yea or nay to a transit tax.
“To me,” Price said, “it was an existential question.
“It asked Metro Vancouverites, ‘Who are we?’ ”
I have to agree with Peter McMartin that Vancouver is currently nothing special. We’re in a lovely natural setting. But we’re not living up to our reputation as innovative and free-thinking nature-lovers. We just can’t imagine our lives without cars.
I want you to do it — to imagine your life with a dependable transit system that can take you all over the Lower Mainland. Cheaply. Easily. No congestion. Freeways with smoothly-running traffic from Horseshoe Bay to Hope. Doing your shopping by hopping on and off the Broadway Skytrain. Taking the family to the beach or the park on the bus. No parking problems. Less pollution.
Or how about this? Using a service like ZipCar or Car 2 Go in combination with Transit. Giving up the ownership of a vehicle that sits parked 90% of the time for greater freedom of mobility. Answering the question of Who are we? with “we’re the people with vision, we ARE the future, we embrace change for the better and accept the inevitability of the end of the automotive age. We are part of that change.”
Otherwise those of us who use transit will be forced to use a less reliable form of transportation: