Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.
On a list of topics that fire up Canadians, we expect politics, religion, hockey and maybe, the foods on which we should – or should not – squirt ketchup.
But as cities sprawl and rush-hour routes clog, urban transportation has moved into a top spot on the list of issues that boil our blood. No wonder. A recent Environics study pegged the average daily Canadian commute at two minutes shy of an hour, and the GPS-based TomTom Traffic Index named three Canadian cities in its 10 most congested North American cities, including Vancouver at number one.
But statistics alone can't capture the frustration of moving centimetres an hour on Toronto's Don Valley Parkway or Calgary's Deerfoot Trail; the anguish of just missing that every-hour regional bus that always seems to pass five minutes early; or the white-knuckle fear of dodging car doors on the bike ride to work. Bike lanes, toll bridges, fare hikes incite fiery debates, and that's before we start arguing about light rail versus subways versus streetcars. Throw in property taxes, gas taxes and parking levies, and things get crazy.
Transportation is also a social issue that touches on other aspects of municipal planning, from accessibility for seniors, the disabled and low-income residents, to where schools and malls are built, and how taxes are raised and spent. It's also a major safety issue after numerous cyclist deaths over the past few years, Ottawa's recent bus-on-train accident, and the usual incidences of traffic accidents and road rage.
Come election time, it feels nearly impossible to reconcile everyone's needs in an affordable transportation plan.
We grew up in the suburbs and often biked to school as kids. We needed two long bus rides to get to high school, and we still get an awe-inspired thrill of the engineering in taking the Toronto subway. Today, when we're not on an airplane, we mostly drive to work downtown. So if we were in charge of public transportation, we'd probably make a big mess. But what about you?
This week's question: If you were in charge of public transportation, how would you make your city safer and more accessible to get around for everyone?
Edward Pullman, president of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition
"We need a transportation system that is truly multi-modal – one that doesn't privilege the motor vehicle above all else. That means frequent and reliable public transit, safe and direct cycling infrastructure, and sidewalks that accommodate high pedestrian volumes and those with mobility aids."
Ahmed El-Geneidy, associate professor of urban planning at McGill University, Montreal.
"Tweak both transport and land use to make all of the citizen's desired destinations (job, shopping, day care, school, restaurants, etc.) reachable within an acceptable travel time. Providing the region with a smart, comfortable, frequent and reliable transport system will impact the citizen's well being."
Bruce McCuaig, president and CEO of Metrolinx, Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
"Because people want to spend more time living and less time commuting, the goal of our Big Move project is to bring 80 per cent of Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area residents within two kilometres of rapid transit. Progress is now well under way, with over $16-billion of projects."
Have your say in the comment section.