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Transportation will be an election issue - finally

Created on Wednesday, 07 July 2010

My column about gridlock two weeks ago triggered a frenzy of emails and discussion points on this controversial subject.

One writer expressed "concern at my lack of vision and abundance of ignorance on this issue." Another reader vehemently objected to the idea of restricting cyclists to non-major arteries, without offering any constructive alternatives.

A number of readers expressed the view that cities should be designed and built for people, not automobiles. Other letters supported my views

Overall, I'm pleased that transportation in the GTA is finally being discussed and debated in the media. This is shaping up to be the leading topic in this fall's municipal election.

This fact bears repeating: over the past 40 years or so, the GTA has lacked a sustainable plan and the necessary investments in infrastructure to accommodate the steady increase in population and the increased number of automobiles on our roads.

For the sake of discussion, infrastructure includes more than streets and highways. Throughout the entire region, public transit, GO buses, GO trains, light rail, subways, traffic-control systems and public education, all work as partners.

In the 1960s and '70s, we witnessed first-hand the social planning experiments that ignored the economic reality of the GTA and failed to anticipate and/or recognize the impact of not investing in the necessary transportation infrastructure for the 21st century.

During that time, we transitioned from local to municipal, then to regional government (including jurisdictions surrounding the GTA). This certainly did not aid the planning process over the years.

A recent Toronto Star editorial predicted an additional 3 million people and 1.5 million more vehicles in the GTA/ Hamilton region within 20 years.

So far, several "fixes" to the gridlock problem have been suggested. These are based on more fees placed on drivers (i.e., tolls, levies, regional gas tax, etc.). The traditional solution to gridlock is always, "let's make the motorist pay."

These additional financial burdens on drivers would generate additional revenue for the municipal and provincial coffers, which could (and should) be earmarked entirely for expanding, improving and sustaining our roads and highways.

However, the motoring public, alone, should not have to bear the burden of funding all of the solutions to these problems.

The transportation issue encompasses the entire GTA area, stretching from Hamilton to Oshawa and north to Barrie. This is the economic engine for the Province and it is of critical importance to Canada's growth. It continues to be the final destination of the majority of immigrants, which in turn puts further demands on commuting.

What is clearly lacking here is a large-scale commitment to overhaul the commuter systems in the GTA. Metrolinx, a government-approved agency responsible for coordinating a plan for improving all modes of transportation around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, has delivered some workable ideas. But the political will to get these projects funded and started seem years away.

Funding for the other necessary solutions to alleviate traffic pressure by investing in public transit, rapid transit, expansion of Go Transit, etc. should be the responsibility of all levels of government. Solutions should derive from multiple sources, not just on the backs of motorists.

The frustration that many readers have with traffic gridlock is certainly understandable. However, it's important to recognize that a lack of planning and missed opportunities in the past have resulted in today's chaos. No one group should bear the entire financial burden in seeking a solution.

I am sure that the municipal elections will drive much dialogue on this key topic. Hopefully, we will finally deal with this issue, which will decide the future direction of the GTA and, ultimately, our lifestyle.

Go back to Cohen Editorials 2010 »

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