A Transit Wasteland Built on Lies

Sometimes, to really appreciate what we’ve got here in Vancouver, you have to go to some distant hell-hole to see how badly other human beings have really messed things up.

In my latest Cityview column for Granville Magazine, I decided to take the “shooting-ducks-in-a-barrel” approach and looked at the awful state of public transit in Los Angeles. As I noted on a recent trip, the car-clogged freeways of that part of the American nation are a testament to bad planning predicated on an unsustainable assumption (a lie, really) of long-term access to cheap energy.

Los Angeles has invested billions of dollars to pick away at the problem with subway lines and new clean-energy buses. But the fact is that despite these efforts, transit ridership on the whole hasn’t moved in decades.

One can no more fix Los Angeles’ traffic issues with transit than you could fix a badly infected broken arm with a band-aid. There’s just too much of a legacy of expensive road infrastructure to maintain and a persistent attitude among the locals that they are “entitled” to their cars — and the “loser cruiser” is for the poor (This attitude contrasts not just with Vancouver but L.A.’s polar opposite, New York City, where Wall Street traders in suits and briefcases rub shoulders with working class Joes on the packed subways).

My look at Los Angeles certainly wasn’t meant to slag our American cousins. We certainly have our own mutated versions of this unsustainable model: Calgary and most other prairie cities, have spread out in the absence of natural geographic limits to growth, taking on all the unfavorable characteristics of “Edge cities” — lacking distinct neighborhoods, utterly dependent on ring roads and freeways, and ineffective mass transit.

The question is what these cities will do with all of this legacy of expensive, unsustainable infrastructure. Will taxpayers simply keep on subsidizing these urban disasters? Will these urban wastelands just be abandoned (or at least vastly depopulated) a few decades from now? I expect both of these things to happen in succession. The only question is how much longer taxpayers are willing to put up with subsidizing failure.

Recommended reading: I’ve seen one possible future for Vancouver and it’s scary

Also: Calgary Transit Sucks


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