Golden Ears: The Big Dis

Golden Ears Bridge

Does the Golden Ears toll have a silver lining?

My last blog entry was all about the wonderful practicality and feasibility of bike commuting, and to keep that train of thought going I thought I’d say a little something about the fate of my comrade driver in our beloved Lower Mainland. Apparently, you are the enemy.

Well, perhaps not exactly. You did get a shiny new bridge to motor upon recently: a moderately striking Golden Ears Bridge between Maple Ridge and Langley. No doubt this will be a boon to Pitt Meadowers, Maple Ridgeians, and Langleyites alike. This would also have come in very handy for two months in 2005 when I drove between Port Coquitlam and a fascinating summer reporting gig at the Langley Advance. (As a side note, I vote that the correct term for residents of Burnaby should henceforth be “Burnabyer.” Thoughts?)

But while another Fraser-spanning stretch of concrete opens up our metropolis to more cars, this one comes with a catch: a revenue-generating/finger-wagging toll for drivers. The money raised will of course help generate revenue for long-suffering Translink (which they sorely need), but there’s much being said about using car tolls as a disincentive – a word I expect to hear quite a bit more as other major projects expand highway infrastructure.

The argument for tolling roads to fund transit is that car travellers benefit when their compatriots choose to get out of a lane and into a bus and should therefore help pay for it, and those who choose transit deserve some slight subsidy for helping reduce congestion. Make sense? Well that’s just the start of it.

Occasionally there is a complete lack of subtlety in politics that makes me laugh out loud. Case in point: the City of Vancouver decides to spend $200,000 on holding car-free festivals on select thoroughfares throughout the summer.  And from where are our wise councillors drawing the funds? From the Parking Sites Reserve, naturally. Take that, cars! (Incidentally, I enjoy the idea of my neighbourhood hippie hangout becoming carless, if only for the fact that it would make both elements of the name “Commercial Drive” ironic).

On top of that, council recently announced a plan to encourage rental property development by removing certain obligations from builders, one of those being, again, parking. And let’s not even get into gasoline/carbon taxes.

There is nothing about all this I dislike, except perhaps one thing: those who are now committed to commuting by car are suddenly being put in a tough situation they don’t exactly deserve. Years ago when many Lower Mainlanders were determining those crucial life platforms of home and work, every reason was there to connect the two by automobile. And now that their routine is in place, the system stacks against them. It’s a tough break.

And yet, what else can we do? We understand now that the decision to build a community around the automobile is a mistake. We get over-consumption in fuels, pollution from combustion, and the wastefulness of urban sprawl. Efficiency is the watchword of the day – and efficiency equals density, frequent bus service, well-oiled 24-speeds, and (heaven help us) walking.

Did we know this when most of us designed our lives around our four-door? Not necessarily. But we know it now – hence the disincentives.