Vancouver Province column: It takes courage to think out of the box on Lower Mainland’s gridlock

The Province
Monday, October 8, 2007

At coffee shops, hockey rinks and office lunch-rooms, transportation is a top topic in Metro Vancouver. Folks are fed up with round-the-clock traffic congestion, crowded buses and endless highway delays.

A recent report from the Vancouver Foundation, Vital Signs 2007, backs up their grievances in a big way.

The foundation identified “improved transportation and better ways of getting around” as the region’s priority issue.

That’s saying a lot in our West Coast metropolis, where homelessness, property crime and skyrocketing housing prices also rank high.

But the dismal state of getting around trumps all.

Metro Vancouver’s grade for transportation, according to the report? A pathetic C-minus, though I suspect they’re being generous. Give it a couple of years, and we could very well be in failing territory. While politicians bicker over the merits of bridges, buses or light rail, the regional traffic picture is only getting bleaker.

Traffic volume is way up. Transit users are getting passed by jam-packed buses. Truckers and service vehicles waste valuable hours in freeway gridlock. It’s costing our economy billions of dollars a year.

And yet, action to improve the matter is often stalled by endless reports, round tables and government studies.

Which is why Mike Harcourt’s take on the issue is so refreshing. Harcourt, a former B.C. premier and Vancouver mayor, is a co-author of the recently published book City Making In Paradise.

In the book, he documents some of the moves that have enhanced the livability of the Lower Mainland over the past half-century.

Harcourt has staked out a bold position on the transportation file. In recent days, he’s been vocal about the urgency of building rapid transit to the Fraser Valley.

According to his book, he’s “an enthusiastic supporter of the Gateway program, including the controversial proposal to twin the Port Mann Bridge — as long as it’s done by giving priority to goods movement, transit and high-occupancy vehicles over solo drivers.”

Give Harcourt credit for a consensus-building stance that recognizes the inevitability of growth in our region, while rejecting the dangerous status quo.

For ignoring ideological lines, Harcourt has already taken his lumps.

He was heckled for his views on the Port Mann at a book launch this past summer by Paul George, founder of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee and husband of former B.C. Green Party leader Adriane Carr.

Harcourt, whose commitment to environmental issues and smart urban growth is unwavering, deserved better.

He wants to see less talk and more action when it comes to this critical issue.

“We know what we have to do,” Harcourt writes in his recently published tome. “We just have to get off of our butts and do it.”

It’s a sentiment that traffic-weary Lower Mainlanders would surely agree with.

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