BRT not easy, but ‘it’s right thing to do’

The London Free Press - - LETTERS - JONI BAECHLER JANE BIGELOW Joni Baechler is a for­mer mayor and city coun­cil­lor. Jane Bigelow is a for­mer mayor and mem­ber of board of con­trol.

As for­mer politi­cians, we fol­low pol­icy dis­cus­sion closely as city­build­ing is an in­her­ent part of our think­ing.

We try to avoid pub­licly com­ment­ing on po­lit­i­cal is­sues out of re­spect for the elected mem­bers of coun­cil and be­cause, frankly, most peo­ple don’t want to hear a re­tired politi­cian’s mus­ings. We have con­tem­plated the de­bate about bus rapid tran­sit (BRT) and feel we need to share our per­spec­tive, be­cause it seems pol­i­tics has got in the way of good pub­lic pol­icy.

Over the years, we have sup­ported var­i­ous forms of trans­porta­tion to move peo­ple ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently. The bus rapid tran­sit (BRT) con­cept is not a re­cently de­ter­mined strat­egy. It has been stud­ied and ad­vanced by ev­ery coun­cil since the 2004 Trans­porta­tion Mas­ter Plan, fol­lowed in 2006 with the Lon­don Tran­sit – Rapid Tran­sit Strat­egy.

The Trans­porta­tion Mas­ter Plan of 2009, called Smart Moves, in­te­grated trans­porta­tion pol­icy (in­clud­ing rapid tran­sit) with plan­ning pol­icy and fi­nan­cial growth man­age­ment strate­gies. In-depth anal­y­sis has oc­curred through trans­porta­tion and tran­sit mas­ter plans, en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ments, in­fras­truc­ture growth man­age­ment plans and mul­ti­fac­eted fi­nan­cial as­sess­ments. Over a decade of study, a mul­ti­tude of com­mu­nity meet­ings and many unan­i­mous rec­om­men­da­tions from three dif­fer­ent coun­cils, the pro­ject moved along from con­cept to No. 1 in­fras­truc­ture pri­or­ity.

The av­er­age tax­payer may not re­al­ize there is an ex­ist­ing 10-year road in­fras­truc­ture gap of $202 mil­lion. With­out rapid tran­sit in­fras­truc­ture, ev­ery ma­jor road in the city would re­quire widen­ing to six lanes. This would mean buy­ing up prop­erty, homes and busi­nesses and bull­doz­ing trees. Sim­ply put, the cost of car­ry­ing new and ex­ist­ing road in­fras­truc­ture is un­sus­tain­able for tax­pay­ers. Pe­riod.

Nearly half of all tran­sit rid­ers use the ser­vice to get to work. Two-thirds of rid­ers can’t af­ford to drive a car. With­out BRT, we are hold­ing back those try­ing to move out of poverty. Adding ser­vices and tweak­ing bus routes are not enough. If it was, this would have been im­ple­mented long ago. A full re­align­ment of the tran­sit lines as feeder routes into the main BRT lines will bring the sys­tem into the 21st cen­tury.

The re­cent United Na­tions In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change up­dated re­port, called Global Warm­ing of 1.5 C, chal­lenges cit­i­zens and politi­cians to im­ple­ment strate­gies to curb emis­sions. As the re­port em­pha­sizes, “The next few years are prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant in our his­tory.”

The same can be said about BRT in trans­form­ing how we ef­fec­tively move peo­ple. BRT and light rail tran­sit (LRT) are the en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble ap­proach ev­ery large city in the coun­try is un­der­tak­ing.

We ap­pre­ci­ate el­e­ments of the sys­tem re­quire fur­ther re­fine­ment, but the struc­tural com­po­nents of the ma­jor route align­ment were de­signed to be a frame­work to ac­com­mo­date trans­porta­tion op­tions as they evolve through time.

Mod­ern cities move peo­ple ef­fec­tively in many ways. It is a key el­e­ment in build­ing a city that serves those who choose to drive, in ad­di­tion to those who need or choose rapid tran­sit, cy­cling or walk­ing. The vot­ing records of the last four may­ors in­di­cate con­sis­tent sup­port for BRT. This is not a new is­sue. It has been re­viewed for over a decade as an es­sen­tial plan for Lon­don.

We would en­cour­age the in­com­ing coun­cil to show lead­er­ship, work to­gether and move for­ward with this trans­for­ma­tional pro­ject. It won’t be easy, but it’s the right thing to do. BRT is a crit­i­cal city­build­ing in­fras­truc­ture strat­egy that will ben­e­fit the eco­nomic, so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal fu­ture of Lon­don, for gen­er­a­tions.

An artist’s ren­der­ing shows the bus rapid tran­sit route on Queens Av­enue look­ing east into down­town.

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