Monday through Friday, in the early hours of the morning and again in the early evening, it’s largely the same scene on I-5 and 205: Cars stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, trying to get across the Columbia River.
Even though the number of cars making that trip has increased steadily over the past several decades as Portland and Vancouver have grown, the capacity remains the same. The demand has gone up, and so have the commute times. The only things that haven’t gone up are the number of ways to get across the river and the total miles of roads in the area. Neither have had anything other than the most modest of increases.
As our roads have become more strained with traffic, the proposed solutions have involved literally everything except adding more capacity. In several instances, they are literally reducing capacity. The goal has been to force us to change their habits and discontinue using our private automobiles.
However, this strategy is a proven failure. Our transportation policies should start with the basic premise that most people own and use cars and will continue to do so. They probably aren’t going to start taking the bus just because government officials think they should. It’s highly unlikely that the average driver will ever abandon their car to spend hours every day riding a bicycle to and from work. Further, access to a car is one of the best indicators to getting out of poverty. Without access to a car, your chances of rising out of poverty are dramatically decreased.
We also need to recognize our rapidly changing world of technology. Electric powered cars, trucks and busses are quickly becoming the norm and they will inevitably become our primary means of powering our future in a more environmentally friendly way.
Instead of encouraging development to provide half as many parking spots as apartments being built, we need to acknowledge that they are a tool for prosperity. This is especially true for low-income people who are looking to elevate themselves out of poverty. Freedom of movement is a critical component of their upward mobility.
Obviously, not everybody is going to use a car. This is why we have public transportation in the first place, and why it needs to be done in a way that best serves those residents.
The most cost-effective way of providing an alternative to people driving their own cars is a safe, reliable bus service. Bus riders need to know that they can depend on the public transit system to get them to their jobs and wherever else they need to go in a timely fashion. There must be adequate routes to meet those needs. Those routes must also be flexible enough to meet any changes in demand that may arise over time.
Vancouver is a growing, diverse community, and our transportation systems and priorities need to reflect that. Our leaders have spent generations using failed strategies aimed at controlling traffic instead of moving it.
Let’s work to make our existing bus systems as user friendly as possible for the riders who rely on it. Let’s make sure there is adequate parking in public places that we know people will be driving to. Let’s also work to bring more living wage jobs here to Vancouver so our residents don’t have to commute anywhere else for work.
Vancouver is growing, and this will continue, no matter what we do or don’t do. We have the opportunity to make sure that growth is smart and responsible and will serve us well into the future. We do not need to sacrifice our most valued neighborhoods.
I’m running for City Council, Position 3 to focus on our transportation systems and make sure they utilize common sense and the kind of customer service our residents deserve and demand.