Platform: Transportation: Where are we Going?

From a media release September 1, 1998:

Welcome to our news conference today. I am very pleased to be joined by Kenneth Schneider, author of the landmark book Autokind vs. Mankind. Mr. Schneider, an urban designer now living in Sacramento, California, will be speaking tonight at City Hall on the topic of Transportation IntoThe Future. Edmontonians from across the city will also be there to speak about their neighborhood transportation issues.

In a moment I will invite Mr. Schneider to say a few words. After he has spoken, I will present the third plank in the Gomberg For Mayor campaign platform. Then we will both be available for questions.

We chose this location (car parking lot at 101 St. and 104 Ave.) for today’s news conference because it illustrates what happens when a city relies too heavily on the automobile. We are surrounded by speeding cars and asphalt parking lots. A few spindly trees have been planted, but they do little to alleviate the feeling of being in a war zone. Add to that the noise and the fumes, and this is far from being a pleasant place. But this is the heart of Edmonton’s downtown.

We didn’t get here by accident. Previous Mayors, councils, and transport experts got us here. To recover the vitality of our downtown and our city we must recognize what is going on, and understand how we got there.

For more than thirty years Kenneth Schneider has focussed his considerable insight and curiosity on these topics. We are fortunate to have him in our midst. I hope he can help us understand how we got here, and where we might go.

(Kenneth Schneider says a few words.)

I am pleased to present to you today our platform plank on the theme: Transportation –Where Are We Going? Our campaign is giving voice to alternative ideas of a healthy, sustainable city.

Where are we going? And why are we in such a hurry to get there? These are fundamental questions. And unless we wrestle with them we may end up with an enormously costly Transportation Master Plan that will drastically increase congestion and traffic, and also make our neighborhoods more dangerous and unlivable. Over time Edmonton will look more and more like Los Angeles. This Transportation Master Plan resembles a Transportation Disaster Plan. By its own admission, over the next twenty years it would more than triple congestion, increase traffic by over 50%, and cost the taxpayers over $9 billion.

But it wouldn’t get us any closer to becoming a wise, attractive city. It would fail to meet nearly every goal that it was supposed to address.

What we’re really after is access. We want to be able to buy our groceries, get to work, and go to school. But poor urban design forces people to drive to do these things. With better city design much of what we want would be right in our neighborhood just a few blocks away. Many cities are realizing that new communities can be built that are pedestrian and bicycle friendly. They can be built around rail and busway stops.

We must ask ourselves: what is more important – saving a minute or two on a commute, or ensuring that kids can walk safely to school? Are we satisfied with a transit system that year after year is being slowly strangled to death, while the highway builders get the lion’s share of the transportation pie?

If elected to be Edmonton’s mayor on October 19th, here’s what I will do:

  • I will fight to protect all neighborhoods from further car incursions. Every neighborhood in Edmonton is suffering from speeding and reckless driving. There is no magic required: our transportation department must embrace techniques of traffic calming, and redesign streets so that the speeding stops.
  • I will place the priority on maintaining existing roads rather than building new freeways, such as on 75th street. There is little wisdom in building a new ring road for hundreds of millions of dollars or more. As mayor I would champion redirecting money away from new roadways, and into fixing roads and sidewalks. Citizens are furious that the city won’t replace crumbling sidewalks. Citizens are entitled to proper sidewalks.
  • I am committed to a transportation system that is equitable. It is not fair that women and the poor get crummy service while wealthier citizens get roadway improvements. How could Bill Smith have the nerve to argue for a new highway when transit users are suffering from having to wait an extra half hour for the bus?
  • Transportation issues are health issues. Between 1990 and 1995, 189 people were killed by cars in Edmonton, and 42,000 were injured. The American Lung Association reports that motor vehicle-caused air pollution causes $40 to $50 billion in annual health care expenditures and 120,000 deaths. Pro-rated to Edmonton, that’s around $100 million and 250 deaths annually. Human health is directly linked to the health of the environment.
  • As mayor I would fight to ensure that Edmonton kept its promises on reducing greenhouse gases. The City of Edmonton has committed to reducing them by 20%. But the proposed Transportation Master Plan would see greenhouse gas emissions rise by 12%. If we make a commitment, we should keep it. The world is watching. With an election looming in less than two months, now is a perfect time to consider future generations.
  • Look around you. We are surrounded by monuments to the auto age. This is downtown, but we have turned it over to speeding cars and parking lots. And in the process we have made much of the downtown unattractive and unfriendly. Why did the kid not cross the road? Because it was full of speeding and dangerous motor vehicles.

My priorities would be to a healthy, dynamic, and people oriented city. With common sense and community spirit, we can protect neighbourhoods from any further invasion by speeding and reckless driving. As City Councillor I worked with school children in Bonnie Doon to slow down the traffic so that kids could safely walk to school. I worked with elderly citizens to get crosswalk lights installed when the Transportation Department dragged their feet. As mayor I will fight for traffic calming, and safer streets.

If the western world can put a man on the moon, why does it seem so impossible to ask for a transportation department that is committed to helping elderly Edmontonians to get safely across the street? Why not calm the traffic with traffic circles, and narrowings; safe routes to school would ensure kids could walk; residential speed limits should be reduced to 40 kmh from 50.

  • Investing in transit is key to realizing a healthy livable city. The great cities of the world are walking, cycling, and transit friendly. I would support extending the LRT and building busways with priority at traffic signals; level loading bus entries; better information displays; and more frequent service. Calgary’s transit system carries 18% of daily trips, while ours carries just 8%. We can do much better.
  • As mayor I would work to restore high quality train service to Calgary, to the airport, and to connect Edmonton to the east and west coasts of Canada. Trains are energy efficient and environmentally friendly for moving people and goods.
  • I will work to ensure that more of the true cost of car transport was paid for by the drivers. It is unfair that all taxpayers, even non-drivers, pay the hefty costs related to excessive reliance on the private automobile.
  • I was in Berkeley a couple of months ago and some transportation activists told me how their city had recently completed a bicycle transportation plan modeled after the excellent plan that Edmonton prepared a decade or so ago. Sadly, ours has been gathering dust. Bill Smith spent $40,000 to buy a mayoralty jeep. I would take that money and hire a bicycle planner to begin implementing the bicycle transportation plan.

I look forward to serious debate about transportation issues in the coming weeks. Ken Schneider and I now welcome any questions you may have.

Thank you.