Design & Development
December 5, 2019

Equity Perspectives no. 1: Vancouver Granville Bridge Connector & Mobility Equity Workshop

Last week, the City of Vancouver hosted a free public workshop on the Granville Bridge Connector project.

Currently, there are six design options being considered, with hopes of bringing forward a preferred design to council in early 2020. In theory, feedback from public engagement and workshops will be used to inform the selection of a preferred design.

In an effort to apply a lens of equity to this project, the city organized a Mobility Equity workshop, facilitated by the ever-insightful Jay Pitter.

To kick-start the workshop, Jay offered insight into what equity is, what equity can look like, and how that relates to transportation. Key takeaways:

Streets are contested spaces. Streets have been designed or re-designed for the efficient and high-speed movement of vehicles, often at the expense of people. As a result, aspects pertaining to safety, both physical and social (e.g. personal security), are often an issue.

This begs the question: to what extent has efficiency been prioritized over safety and security? To what extent do women, elderly, LGBTQ, visible minority and immigrant groups (among others) feel safe and secure on our streets? To what extent have such groups been overlooked in planning and design?

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In addition to my role as a new Price Tags contributor (thanks all for reading!), I have an academic and professional background in transportation, social equity, and the environment, and currently specialize in planning for transport equity, with an emphasis on walking and cycling.

Invariably tied to this are important considerations that relate to transport, such as land use and development (commercial and residential), climate change, displacement, gentrification, and (of course), the needs and wants of actual people.

Thus, when planning for transport equity, it is about more than just finding ways to engineer our way from point A to B. It is about finding ways to create safe, secure, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable places (yes! streets are places!) that improve mobility and accessibility fairly, and assist people in their ability to participate and flourish in socio-economic life.

With equity emerging as a hot topic, I often hear the question: “what is equity?”  and, depending on the context, “how can it be achieved?”. In reality, equity can be defined in many ways, and there are also many ways one can work to achieve it.

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Having just finished reading The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, I was struck by how much remains relevant today, even though it was published in 1975. The book is a biography of Robert Moses, the legendary and polarizing New York city planner who controlled various government offices (up to twelve at one point!) from 1924 to 1968, a span of 44 years. Moses displayed an unparalleled aptitude for gaining and leveraging power, which he frequently abused to build the infrastructure and housing of New York in his image – which (spoiler alert) relied heavily on the private automobile. For a sense of magnitude, Moses built 669 km of parkways and 13 bridges.
At 1162 pages long, I will spare the reader from a comprehensive review, although I would recommend that this book is compulsory reading for anyone who is interested in how we became so reliant upon the automobile. What follows are two excerpts which are particularly salient when compared to the Massey Bridge project, a local example of this struggle, of which there are already a treasure trove of articles posted on Price Tags.

On accepting traffic as a normal part of one’s day:

It was during the early 1920’s that such traffic first overwhelmed New York; in 1924 and 1925 and 1926, the public reacted with indignation and protest against the jams in which – seated in the vehicles that had promised them new freedom – they found themselves imprisoned instead. Traffic was news, big news; clockings* were a front-page staple. By the late 1920’s, however, a kind of numbness – measurable by a slackening in angry letters-to-the-editor and campaign statements by both-ears-to-the-ground politicians – was setting in. Psychologists know what happens to rats motivated by mild electric shocks or the promise of a food reward to get out of the maze when the maze is excessively difficult to get out of; for a while, their efforts to find an escape become more and more frantic, and then they cease, the creatures becoming sullen, then listless, suffering apathetically through shock or hunger rather than making further efforts that they believe will be useless. People caught in intolerable traffic jams twice a day, day after day, week after week, month after month, began after some months to accept traffic jams as part of their lives, to become hardened to them, to suffer through them in dull and listless apathy. The press, responding to its readers’ attitude, ran fewer hysterical congestion stories, gave fewer clockings. A city editor seeing a couple of reporters with their feet up on their desks on a slow Friday afternoon found other make-work than sending them out to discover how long it took to get from the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to the Lincoln Tunnel. Only in editorial columns – written, it sometimes seems, by men selected through a Darwinian process in which the vital element for survival is an instant and constant capacity for indignation and urgency – did the indignation and urgency endure. Traffic was still news, but it was no longer big news.
*Note: clocking refers to travel time to the Lincoln Tunnel from various locations
Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1975. Part VI: The Lust for Power Chapter 39: The Highwayman P.912
 

On attempting to alleviate traffic by building larger highway projects:

Highways competed with parallel mass transit lines, luring away their customers. Pour public investment into the improvement of highways while doing nothing to improve mass transit lines, and there could be only one outcome: those lines would lose more and more passengers; those losses would make it more and more difficult for their owners to sustain service and maintenance; service and maintenance would decline; the decline would cost the lines more passengers; the loss in passengers would further accelerate the rate of decline; the rate of passenger loss would correspondingly accelerate – and the passengers lost would do their travelling instead by private car, further increasing highway congestion. No crystal ball was needed to foretell such a result; it had already been proven, most dramatically perhaps in New Jersey, where the Susquehanna Railroad has lost over two-thirds of its passengers in the ten years following the opening of the George Washington Bridge,

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