The headlines du jour: “Just Say No,” “Let’s Rein in Spending,” “How to Save Millions.”
A virtual army of self-professed “business-friendly” candidates have bought into the cost-cutting obsession and desperately try to outdo each other.
Of course, who doesn’t want to see lower taxes or well-paying jobs in the region? The slogans are very clear, what’s not so clear is where the cuts will be made and whether there has been any thought given to long-term consequences.
The example I am familiar with is transportation. I am concerned that this movement, lead by a challenging mayoral candidate and supported (we think?) by the obscure “common sense” group, is penny wise and dollar foolish.
The fast population growth in our region will prompt an equally fast growth in transportation demand. Our main arterial roads and bridges are already reaching capacity with increasing frequency. Mobility in and around the city centre is rapidly decreasing.
This translates to increased cost, pollution, frustration and a general decrease of the quality of life which so many candidates have fervently vowed to preserve. Traffic jams are neither business nor family-friendly.
What are the options?
We can either do nothing and accept a semi-permanent gridlock, we can build very expensive and intrusive highway expansions, or we can invest in alternatives such as public transportation, cycling and make the city more pedestrian-friendly.
It is puzzling that those incumbent candidates who have the loudest voices for budget cuts seem to be the most eager to support the construction of new highways and the most reluctant to support cycling. (We also note the promotion of a new highway by the “common sense” group).
Last year’s expenditure of more than $3 million for a 300-metre stretch of Cliffe Avenue is a mere drop in the bucket of what would be needed to satisfy unmanaged demand in motorized traffic.
Without a clear vision and a determined planning effort, ever-increasing downtown congestion will push commercial and residential development ever farther away from the city centre, leaving a withering downtown core and the automobile as the only practical transportation option to get to the suburban big box malls.
Currently our transit ridership and cycling mode share are pathetically low. This is a result of an inconvenient bus network and roads that are too scary for the average cyclist.
There is a shortsighted and narrow-minded view that it is not justifiable to spend money on such a small interest group. This view is fuelled by small minds who get into a snit because of a 10-second detour around a street party on a Sunday afternoon!
We need highways, but cycling lanes are a luxury we can’t afford?
There are many smarter and more visionary regions and municipalities all over the world who have recognized that building capacity for cycling is the most cost-effective long-term transportation strategy.
The capital region, for example, is targeting a 25 per cent share of cycling trips on a regional system of over 900 kilometres. Maybe that is optimistic, but you won’t get there unless you reach for it.
It is not only good for the budget, but promotes public health and reduces pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. What is the Comox Valley aiming for?
All candidates have been asked specific questions on this, subject as well as other environmental issues. You can see for yourself what the candidates’ answers are.