…If it really happens

Transportation Master Plan is heartening, but unrealistic

With the recent release of a new Transportation Master Plan by the City of Winnipeg, discussion has once again been re-opened on the current and future state of our city’s public transportation situation.

Actually, it’s been pretty much consistently open since the long-forgotten days of my childhood, but now it’s… more open.

The TMP claims that its purpose is to “present a long-term strategy to guide the planning, development, renewal and maintenance of a multi-nodal transportation system” in Winnipeg.

Proposed are several upgrades to roads and bridges around town and, more importantly, a four-pronged rapid transit network that would include the completion of the second phase of the southwest corridor as well as three other corridors (north, east and west), all currently in much more tentative stages of their design.

The portion of the TMP dealing specifically with rapid transit is projected to cost anywhere from $671 million to $2.7 billion, and to be completed before the year 2031.

Now, it’s certainly easy to get excited when a comprehensive, official strategy regarding our city’s lacklustre rapid transit system is released to the public.

Personally, I get to observe the progress of the currently under-construction Osborne bus station from the view of one of Winnipeg’s current less-than-rapid transit vessels every day - and that optimistic rhetoric in the official document, well, it sure is encouraging.

Unfortunately, though, that fancy plan is nothing more than a fancy plan, and that fancy bus station happens to be aimed along the only currently realized section of our wonderful new rapid transit system - a puzzling, virtually useless shortcut from confusion corner to somewhere nearby the Forks.

Yes, this is an exciting time for Winnipeg’s development as a city, but unfortunately I’ve got to rain on the parade - at least a little.

First of all, two decades is an awfully long time - both in terms of transit development and the world in general.

How much has significantly changed in the past 20 years?

How about the unforeseen economic crisis that has been affecting much of the world since 2008, only about three years ago?

The massive cost-range for rapid transit offered by the TMP (given in 2011 dollars) coupled with inevitably unpredictable economic and political conditions over such a long period of time is bound to render any current expenditure predictions essentially meaningless.

As the economic climate fluctuates, watch as the planning and construction of rapid transit lurches and stalls as it has for so many years already.

Oh, and that light rail transit (LRT) versus bus rapid transit (BRT) disagreement that’s been going on for so long, the one that still hasn’t really been solved? You can also fully expect it to continue to delay progress on improved public transportation just as it has for years already.

Furthermore, Winnipeg has an obvious sprawl problem.

This will always inhibit our decision-makers’ willingness to fully commit to costly transportation improvements during turbulent times.

A kilometre of rapid transit route here might cost as much as it would in a denser city, but access to it - and therefore its efficiency - will always be limited in Winnipeg, resulting in a system that will be much more difficult to construct and sustain in terms of economics.

I love our city, and I want to see it with a much-improved public transportation system just as much as the next person does.

Maybe I’ve become jaded by a lifetime of indecision and flip-flopping regarding the matter, or perhaps I’m unconsciously assuming the skeptical viewpoint of a well-conditioned liberal arts student.

Whatever the case may be, let’s all hope that timely progress on the issue will actually be made for the betterment of our city.

I just won’t be holding my breath.

Carson Hammond is a second-year English student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 66, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 17, 2011)

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