Montreal Bike Lanes — James Schwartz

Bike lanes: do you use them, can’t do without them, or feel they’re in the way?

As reported by the CBC, in early March the Angus Reid Institute polled over 5,400 Canadians on cycling. Results were released today; not surprisingly, views on cycling and protected bike lanes really depended upon respondent age and length of journey to work, and which part of the country surveyed they came from.

As Angus Reid Institute executive director Shachi Kurl suggested, there’s a reframing happening in terms of how people are perceiving modes of transportation that is possibly just as profound as that which occurred with the 20th century shift towards the combustion engine and vehicles.

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A week to wander – to Texas, as it happens.

So I’ll leave you with another poll to take the mood at the moment.

The last time PT took a poll on whether the referendum might pass was on December 11, just at the time the Mayors’ transportation package was announced.  Over two-thirds of the 320 PT readers who responded thought it would.

So what do you think now?

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Rather than showing the results continually, we’ll wait until next week to do so after we have received more responses from MLAs, which I’ll continue to post as they come in.

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My sense of the campaign so far: the only issue is TransLink; most people support the package and, given a selection of difficult choices, the 0.5 percent increase in the regional sales tax.

But there needs to be some commitment to change in the governance structure of TransLink, regardless of the referendum’s outcome.  And that assurance needs to be made by the person who can make it happen.

That’s the Premier, of course, but we’d settle for Minister Stone.

Change is coming.  The credibility of pretty much the entire leadership of this region, public and private, is on the line – and the vote is in some way a vote of confidence.  That’s particularly true for the appointed board – good people all but who would need to consider stepping down in the event of a negative outcome, perhaps at the same the mayors will be considering whether to walk away from any political responsibility for TransLink.

I’ll confess to some disappointment that the current arrangement has failed so badly, even though the changes imposed in 2008 were ill-considered.  I think the man responsible for them, Kevin Falcon, the provincial transportation minister at that time, wanted TransLink to be governed more like YVR or Port Metro Vancouver, with a board of appointees who would make the considered and tough decisions behind closed doors.  That has worked reasonably well for those agencies, after all, who report to only one level of government.

But TransLink also had to have a political board, and it had to come from a different level of government.  Only elected representatives can levy taxes, and some of them had to be regional.  But Falcon didn’t want them ‘interfering’ in how the money would effectively be spent, which meant a split jurisdiction between appointed and political boards.  Thus TransLink had no face, no single person whom the public could see as accountable.  Nor was there any love lost between the two bodies so that  ultimately, the organization was undermined by spitefulness, making it an easy target for the anti-government animosity which has become the basis for a no vote – an easy rationalization for many who will say in retrospect that their vote was a message not a rejection.

I must note my personal involvement in all this.  I was appointed by the Mayors’ Council to sit on the screening committee that made recommendations to the mayors on whom to appoint to the board.  The panel narrowed down the applicants; the mayors chose.  And that was about the extent of their direct influence.

That arrangement can’t go on – not without a lot of blame and little likelihood of constructive reform.

TransLink needs a single board and a single face.  It needs electoral accountability.  It needs defending.  It is, after the over-the-top attacks are discounted, one of the better transit agencies in North America with a defensible record – just no one to defend it.

But change in its structure comes after the referendum.  The question is whether, in focusing so much on TransLink dysfunction, we inadvertently send the region into dysfunction with a negative vote that can’t be renegotiated.

More to discuss on that when I return.

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Time for another poll, just to measure the mood at the moment.

This poll asks whether you think the Mayors’ Council proposal – Regional Transportation Investments: A Vision for Metro Vancouver – could pass in a referendum.

Yes, there are no doubt compromises to come, a funding amount to be determined, a question to be formulated, but let’s get your assessment of the likelihood of success – or not.  And then add your comments, qualifications and rationale below.

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Road pricing is the flavour of the month – the idea that drivers would pay a charge based on distance driven, possibly time of day, possibly on degree of congestion on the chosen route, based on data collected either by external monitors or internal software.

But this is an idea not ready for prime time since neither the technology nor public acceptance has been tested and vetted.

So we’re left with tolls, particularly tolls on bridges – and, by provincial policy, only on new infrastructure, so long as there is a free alternative.  The result, however, has been that the only bridges built and tolled have led to South of the Fraser.  And with the prospect of two more bridges – the Pattullo and Massey – coming on stream, the unfairness of such an outcome targeting only South of the Fraser is obvious and unacceptable.

Surrey’s mayor and others have suggested that the time is right for a revision of the policy, particularly in the context of the upcoming referendum.  Reduce existing tolls, she says, but apply a much lower amount to all the major bridges in the region.

That would mean at minimum that the Lions Gate and Second Narrows bridges would see, for the second time in their histories, a toll charge for residents of the North Shore.  And one can see right away a ‘counter-fairness’ issue.

Thanks to the work of Chad Skelton at The Sun – their resident number-cruncher – we can see at a glance the percentages of commuters who have to cross bridges. (All of Metro commuting patterns are graphed in The Data Trail.)

Here for instance is Surrey:

Less than a third of commuters have to cross a bridge to get to work.

But in West Vancouver?

Almost double.  Only two bridges and no free alternative.

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So would residents of some of Canada’s richest municipalities be willing to cough up, say, a Loonie every time they cross Lions Gate or Second Narrows in the name of fairness, regional equity and investment in better transportation.  Or is that too much to ask, particularly of the Liberal government who would bear the brunt of any voter backlash?  And as a consequence, take any proposal for practical road pricing off the table?

Let’s ask.  Here’s a totally unscientific poll to gauge your opinion on the likelihood of such a proposition.

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After reading the post below, you may feel I’m being too negative.  Or right on.  So indicate your expectation in this PT poll on the likelihood of the referendum passing at this point.  I’m not asking whether it should pass but whether it’s likely to.

Yes, so much depends on the wording – but once known, we’ll take another poll and see how the odds look then.  In the meantime …

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Number of days til the referendum, if held at next municipal election: 403

You can see the results of the last poll here.

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