You might have missed it: the 25th anniversary of SkyTrain. Four billion dollars invested so far, and a billion passengers served. The cost of this form of rapid transit may still be debated, but not its level of service: 90 second headways still amaze me, moving over 300,000 people a day in a region only slightly above two million.
Equally amazing: the woman who got the credit at the ceremony:
Grace McCarthy was the Social Credit minister and Deputy Premier in Bill Bennett’s government charged with getting SkyTrain up and running in time for Expo ’86. With her indefatigable optimism, on full display before the crowd, she had brooked no doubters. This was to be another manifestation of B.C. as Builder – a political tradition marking progress with state-sponsored infrastructure.
Indeed, it says much about our current times that she now comes across as a bit of Leftist – at least as a promoter of government-directed expenditure, of using borrowed money to build your way out of recession. “Bill Bennett,” she related, “said it was a terrible time (in the early-80s) to go into more debt – but also the best time to spend money.” Hence Expo, and SkyTrain. And as Bennett himself observed, “A small-town Premier from the Okanagan transformed the province’s major urban region with transportation” * – and a collective form at that.
McCarthy, I think, is fully aware of the moment we’re in. “The U.S.,” she said, in what I imagine were carefully chosen words, “is suffering from indecision, from not working together. But we have not lost our positive outlook – and we cannot afford to lose that. We can do what we did 25 years ago when we showed the world what we were capabile of. And we can do it again at this pivotal time.”
At that moment, all the TransLink executives, board members and mayors present were likely thinking, Oh Grace, we should take you on the road once again to convince every council, every doubter that now is the time to move forward.
[In conversation afterwards, there was a lot of optimism that, indeed, the ‘Moving Forward’ initiative – with accompanying gas tax – will be passed at the local level, and, unlike in the past, the Province will quickly pass it. The Evergreen Line makes it imperative, and the other benefits, particularly South of the Fraser, will bring onside sufficient weighted votes to get it through the Metro Board.]
Finally, I should note that McCarthy made special mention of the B.C. Parkway – the private-sector sponsored pedestrian and cycle paths that run under SkyTrain. Though it’s still criticized by users for its poor design, McCarthy was right, I think, to honour its achievement. It really was precedent-setting, and provided a regional vision of alternative transportation that lives on today.
(Thanks to Jason Vanderhill for the photo.)
* See also this piece on the transformation of Richmond by the Canada Line.