Thursday, March 5, 2015

Opinion: Check your ego at the transit gate door Vancouver Courier March 4, 2015

If the transit referendum passes we could see rapid bus systems like this one in Curitiba Brazil
My interest in the forthcoming transit referendum dates back, in part, to Oct. 15, 1970 when, as a University of Toronto student, I attended the premiere screening of a The Burning Would, a documentary film made by the late Jane Jacobs and Marshall McLuhan opposing a proposed expansion of Toronto’s Spadina Expressway.

Both Jacobs and McLuhan were supposed to be at the screening but McLuhan had to cancel at the last minute. The moderator apologized for his absence and read out his speech which, as I recall, comprised three words: “Forget your ego.”

McLuhan wanted us to stop thinking about expressways and automobiles as first-class transportation and public transit as second-class.

This resonated with me since a year earlier, I had returned from 15 months working and travelling in England and Scandinavia where the image of public transit was very different than in North America.
In hindsight, it is fascinating to revisit what McLuhan had to say about city planning and transportation four and a half decades ago.

He wrote: “Our planners are 19th century men with a naïve faith in an obsolete technology. In an age of software, planners treat people like hardware — they haven’t the faintest interest in the values of neighbourhood or community. Their failure to learn from the mistakes of American cities will be ours too… The Spadina Expressway is an old hardware American dream of now dead cities and blighted communities.”

Toronto’s Stop Spadina movement was happening around the same time as the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association (SPOTA) was leading the charge against a proposed expressway in Vancouver. Today, most Vancouverites would agree we have a much better city since we stopped U.S.-style freeways.
I arrived in Vancouver in 1974. Shortly thereafter, I was appointed Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Special Coordinator for the redevelopment of city lands along the south shore of False Creek. Mayor Art Phillips and his council colleagues wanted to create an exemplary transit-focused, walkable community. Some streets were even restricted to pedestrians only and parking ratios were substantially reduced. The marketing tagline for the first condos was “Work in Vancouver, Live in Europe.”
To ensure B.C. Transit would provide bus service on the day the first residents moved in, a special $5 charge (per month) was levied against every unit as a subsidy. Unfortunately, the planning was ahead of its time and a parking garage was eventually built to accommodate the overflow of resident and visitor cars.
 
In the late 1980s, McLuhan’s words rang in my ears when, as president of the Urban Development Institute, I participated with then city councillor Carole Taylor on a CBC Sunday morning program discussing public transportation. I embarrassingly recall confessing that on the few occasions I used public transit, I would ask the driver in a loud voice what the fare was so that other passengers would not think of me as a regular user.
 
Today, for many motorists, public transit continues to be viewed as second-class transportation. It is not for them. I suspect this is one reason why many oppose the extra 0.5 per cent sales tax. They may fabricate other excuses such as objecting to TransLink’s CEO salary, but in reality they don’t want to pay towards a transit system that is not for them.

But for others, attitudes are definitely changing. This was best illustrated by a prominent lawyer who regularly holidays in the south of France and St. Bart’s who casually mentioned to me he and his wife now regularly take the bus downtown. They can enjoy a glass of wine with their meal and avoid exorbitant parking charges. As people who often travel to London, New York and Paris, they no longer think there’s a stigma to using Vancouver transit. Most people now using the Canada Line and SkyTrain also know this to be true.
 
Soon our referendum ballots will arrive in the mail. Before voting, I would urge you to carefully consider the real benefits offered by improved transit: substantial gas, parking, and car maintenance savings; improved health; reduced traffic congestion; and for a few of us, a reduced likelihood of being charged with DUI offences.

Marshall McLuhan was right. We should be building better transit, not expressways. So forget your ego and vote Yes.
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/check-your-ego-at-the-transit-gate-door-1.1780767#sthash.8VjfLpuF.dpuf
My interest in the forthcoming transit referendum dates back, in part, to Oct. 15, 1970 when, as a University of Toronto student, I attended the premiere screening of a The Burning Would, a documentary film made by the late Jane Jacobs and Marshall McLuhan opposing a proposed expansion of Toronto’s Spadina Expressway.
Both Jacobs and McLuhan were supposed to be at the screening but McLuhan had to cancel at the last minute. The moderator apologized for his absence and read out his speech which, as I recall, comprised three words: “Forget your ego.”
McLuhan wanted us to stop thinking about expressways and automobiles as first-class transportation and public transit as second-class.
This resonated with me since a year earlier, I had returned from 15 months working and travelling in England and Scandinavia where the image of public transit was very different than in North America.
In hindsight, it is fascinating to revisit what McLuhan had to say about city planning and transportation four and a half decades ago.
He wrote: “Our planners are 19th century men with a naïve faith in an obsolete technology. In an age of software, planners treat people like hardware — they haven’t the faintest interest in the values of neighbourhood or community. Their failure to learn from the mistakes of American cities will be ours too… The Spadina Expressway is an old hardware American dream of now dead cities and blighted communities.”
Toronto’s Stop Spadina movement was happening around the same time as the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association (SPOTA) was leading the charge against a proposed expressway in Vancouver. Today, most Vancouverites would agree we have a much better city since we stopped U.S.-style freeways.
I arrived in Vancouver in 1974. Shortly thereafter, I was appointed Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Special Coordinator for the redevelopment of city lands along the south shore of False Creek. Mayor Art Phillips and his council colleagues wanted to create an exemplary transit-focused, walkable community. Some streets were even restricted to pedestrians only and parking ratios were substantially reduced. The marketing tagline for the first condos was “Work in Vancouver, Live in Europe.”
To ensure B.C. Transit would provide bus service on the day the first residents moved in, a special $5 charge was levied against every unit as a subsidy.
Unfortunately, the planning was ahead of its time and a parking garage was eventually built to accommodate the overflow of resident and visitor cars.
In the late 1980s, McLuhan’s words rang in my ears when, as president of the Urban Development Institute, I participated with then city councillor Carole Taylor on a CBC Sunday morning program discussing public transportation.
I embarrassingly recall confessing that on the few occasions I used public transit, I would ask the driver in a loud voice what the fare was so that other passengers would not think of me as a regular user.
Today, for many motorists, public transit continues to be viewed as second-class transportation. It is not for them. I suspect this is one reason why many oppose the extra 0.5 per cent sales tax. They may fabricate other excuses such as objecting to TransLink’s CEO salary, but in reality they don’t want to pay towards a transit system that is not for them.
But for others, attitudes are definitely changing. This was best illustrated by a prominent lawyer who regularly holidays in the south of France and St. Bart’s who casually mentioned to me he and his wife now regularly take the bus downtown. They can enjoy a glass of wine with their meal and avoid exorbitant parking charges. As people who often travel to London, New York and Paris, they no longer think there’s a stigma to using Vancouver transit.
Most people now using the Canada Line and SkyTrain also know this to be true.
Soon our referendum ballots will arrive in the mail. Before voting, I would urge you to carefully consider the real benefits offered by improved transit: substantial gas, parking, and car maintenance savings; improved health; reduced traffic congestion; and for a few of us, a reduced likelihood of being charged with DUI offences.
Marshall McLuhan was right. We should be building better transit, not expressways. So forget your ego and vote Yes.
michaelarthurgeller@gmail.com
twitter.com/michaelgeller
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/columnists/check-your-ego-at-the-transit-gate-door-1.1780767#sthash.8VjfLpuF.dpuf

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