Monday, March 31, 2008
Road trips to Seattle, Portland and other Pacific Northwest destinations have long been popular with British Columbians hankering for some fun and recreation south of the 49th parallel. But given the dreadfully long lineups at border crossings in the Lower Mainland, perhaps they’d be better off flying to Toronto or Montreal instead for that out-of-town weekend adventure.
After all, getting there by air might at least be faster than joining the queue of Washington-bound cars at the Peace Arch crossing on a typical Saturday morning.
During the Easter holiday weekend, massive vehicle lineups caused border wait-times as long as five hours.
Predictably, most travellers took the delays in stride — since three-hour waits seem to be the norm on other long weekends.
But British Columbians shouldn’t be so complacent.
The crush of vehicles at our international border not only holds up vacationers, shoppers and patrons of the all-you-can-eat buffets in nearby Bellingham, Wash., it also smothers regional trade and business activity.
That’s because Metro Vancouver is part of a larger urban area — sometimes referred to as Cascadia — that stretches as far south as Portland.
According to Richard Florida, the high-profile University of Toronto business professor who specializes in urban theory, metropolitan areas such as Cascadia will drive economic growth worldwide in the future.
In his 2007 research paper, entitled The Rise of the Mega-Region, Florida ranks the Vancouver/Seattle/Portland region as among the Top 40 in the world.
The professor’s findings certainly inspire us on paper. But they tend to fall flat when you consider our congested border crossings and the sorry state of travel in the region.
Given all the transportation hassles, in fact, Vancouver and Seattle might just as well be at on opposite sides of the continent.
Civic leaders on both sides of the border need to think through this mess. And they can start with the border itself.
While investment by Canadian and U.S. governments in several area crossings is a step in the right direction, it’s not nearly enough — not until crossing wait times are closer to five minutes than five hours.
We need more gates and more border guards to staff them.
And let’s not ignore one of the best people-movers for mega-regions such as ours, namely rail.
Our civic leaders should look at setting up a high-speed rail service that whisks business travellers and tourists along this key urban corridor.
If other mega-regions in Europe, Asia and even North America can do it, there’s no reason why the major cities of Cascadia can’t follow suit.
Government officials have been making noises for years about speeding up travel up and down the Canadian and U.S. west coasts.
It’s high time they got going with it.