Short term pain for long term gain.

I tend to believe that in order for change to occur, there needs to be a (cheaper|better|more convenient) alternative to prompt a change in user|consumer habit.

After having read Jeremy’s post only minutes ago, it’s easy to see how we got to where we are today – specifically, in traffic hell. For anyone in a major metropolis area in North America, you’re probably well aware of the traffic problems. Each city has it’s own problems; Vancouver has bridges and geographic constraints that are quite different to those of Calgary and Toronto. However, the common denominator is bad traffic.

What does the future hold?

Does it just continue to get worse? And if it gets worse, what does that translate to (this could easily snowball into a great debate and I won’t go there)? From the consumer, this means more time on the road, more time wasted, less time with the kids. It also means more cars idling, in stop-start gridlock, wearing down breaks, breaking down parts, burning (wasting) more fuel and polluting excessively. The list goes on.

What’s the solution?

This is where I was a bit shocked by what Jeremy posted:

We need more lanes on the highways around here

A suggestion like this is what I expect coming from General Motors, or Shell, or an old-fashioned (ahem) conservative. To be fair, adding more highways is not necessarily a bad idea. However, when are you done adding lanes to the freeway? North America is incredibly dependent on the automobile and this is both unnecessary and equates to long term problems. And freeways have been expanding for years with no end in sight.

Now, living in Vancouver, we’ve seen the city planners doing a pretty good job focusing first on density rather than urban sprawl. We have our natural constraints to thank for that. Wait a minute, “natural constraints”. What do I mean by that? Literally speaking, we’ve got mountains, oceans, rivers and the American border all surrounding the city, restricting (but still not stopping) our urban sprawl. This means it’s either inconvenient, unattractive, not feasible or downright impossible for us to build out. So we build up instead.

Having said that, we Vancouverites are not immune to traffic problems. You don’t have to look far to see our gridlock. Just ask anyone commuting over the Port Mann bridge. And there is considerable debate over a new project to twin the Port Mann bridge, effectively doubling the freeway. Where does all that traffic come from, and where does it go? Clearly this is a big problem with no clear solution.

What do we do about this?

As I said at the beginning of this post; for change to occur, there needs to be incentive. We’ve already established we have traffic problems in and around our cities. And this is where I believe we let the traffic problems encourage change and innovation.

We already see fuel costs skyrocketing, traffic congestion ballooning, and commute times growing. We’ve currently got a world-wide focus on the environment (in large thanks to Al Gore and the Inconvenient Truth). I say let’s continue to let traffic problems plaque cities, tax the gas, increase the price of owning and operating a vehicle and make it more of a luxury than necessity.

Direct those tax revenues on public transit that works, re-zoning that brings workers closer to home or close to public transit. Instead of building highways to support greater capacity; provide incentives that decreases that capacity.

Bring on the change!

Comments are closed.